Somehow, when the NY Times speaks, everyone listens. This stretching article was referenced in many Blogs with mixed reactions. Earlier this month, they had an article on Relaxation – The Key to Victory and Success. While this was not a landmark or pillar article, it did mention Clyde Hart which caught my eye.
It is fair to say The NY Times has a very large and diverse readership. There will always be an audience for articles targeted to the beginner athlete.
Back to Stretching
I don’t know the big deal about the article on stretching. Warming-up and stretching (or, specifically Dynamic Warm-Up and Static Stretching) are becoming highly controversial topics. Just like drinking out of plastic bottles, but we’ll leave that out for another day.
If you throw a bucket of water on a sleeping cat, the cat will leap forward. Did you see the cat stretch beforehand? How about a Police officer breaking out in a full sprint after sitting in a car for an hour? And in police boots, too!
The old trend of static stretching and “holding it” is so old school. The new trend is dynamic stretching.
My take on Stretching or the Dynamic Warm-up? Here are 5 fundamentals or training tips that I adhere to:
1) Stretching should be called “Checking”.
Stretching is the wrong word. “Checking” is the proper word. When you stretch, what are you trying to accomplish? You are checking to see if the muscle is at optimal length, right? If it’s not optimal, then you warm up or loosen up some more.
What does that really mean? Getting your core temperature up, or doing a warm-up, right? You could also achieve this by lying down with 15 blankets on top of you like Percy Williams, or sitting in a sauna?
When I used to train in San Jose at noon during lunch time with friend Matt Bogdanowicz, our warm ups were cut short when the temperature was in the mid 90’s F (or mid 30’s C). We just felt loose. However, our water bottles tasted like hot tea without the tea bag.
Depending on the ambient temperature, you often find sprinters wearing several layers of clothing in the heat. Thus, warming up, whether its psychological or not, is key before performing any athletic movement. Half tights and cycling tights are ever so popular with sprinters, as we try to keep our hamstrings warm.
2) Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretching tries to incorporate more sport-specific movements.
A typical warm-up includes starting off with a walk, break out in a “Scarborough Shuffle” (Toronto or York University folks will get this joke), then to a light jog. You see more and more sprinters doing Butt Kicks, Side Shuffles, Hop Openers, Walking Lunges, or Backward Pedals, in their “warm-up”.
These are not to be confused with doing drills, such as the classic ABC Mach Drills or Clyde Hart H drills.
Again, it’s all a matter of getting the core temperature up, and feeling loose. The muscles must be at optimal length, and ready to perform the full range of motion required for the event.
3) Increased blood flow helps bring more Oxygen to the desired areas
In addition to oxygen rich blood going to the muscles, O2 and CO2 exchange (oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange) is equally important. Most of your Lactic acid is converted to CO2, so “cooling down” (the opposite of warming up) after a 400 meters with easy aerobic jogging will help “flush out” the lactic acid.
This is one reason why we do 2000 meters of sub max (65-75% speed) tempo intervals on our easy recovery days on grass surfaces. (i.e. usually 2x10x100 or 10x200m “turnarounds” or “greyhounds”) These workouts build the efficiency of your blood vessels and capillaries for O2 and CO2 exchange
In major competitions, you may be in the Control Room for over an hour. You can’t leave the area or else you’ll get DQ’ed. A more efficient body with blood circulation will keep you warmer and looser.
I found this technique highly beneficial, but only at the end of the workout once I have showered and eaten. Usually I perform Microstretching while watching TV to cut down the boredom. These are very low intensity stretches, much less than 50% of exertion.
Why is a “low intensity” load required?
There are two specialized receptor tissues of the muscle and tendon: the muscle spindle fibers and the Golgi tendon organs. The muscle spindle senses muscle lengthening while the Golgi tendon organ senses tension. These two mechanisms prevents damage to your body to both muscles and tendons.
Do you remember your doctor asking you to sit down on the table while the doctor taps under your knee cap with a rubber hammer? This was testing the stretch reflex reaction. You body protects itself from over-stretching.
How long to stretch? There are several studies out there. Phil Campbell recommends 30 seconds stretch per hold, while Microstretching experts recommend 60 seconds stretch per hold. Whatever you choose, I recommend having a stopwatch that can repeat a beeper sound every 30 or 60 seconds.
5) It’s all about hip mobility.
You run with your hips. Tom Tellez quoted, “your hips are the engine to your body”. So many athletes including myself are super tight in the hips. The best example of “loose hips” was Cuba’s Dayron Robles 110 meter champion in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Examples of stretching and loosening the hips are standing leg swings, or the “scorpion drills” – lying down and swinging your legs from one side to another. Other drills include the “spiderman” drills, as well as “over-under” hurdles.
The bottom line on warming-up and stretching: what ever you do, just make sure your body is 100% ready to perform at its optimal state before the gun goes off.