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Stretches for injury prevention and treatment

This is an excerpt from Triathlon Anatomy-2nd Edition by Mark Klion & Jonathan Cane.

Injury prevention requires a well-designed training plan with periods of rest and guidance on nutrition for preworkout, in-workout, and postworkout consumption. Another important piece of the puzzle is a stretching program. Exercise places a great deal of stress on the tissues, which can lead to stiffness. This may lead to a loss of motion about the joint, and it may cause a change in biomechanics, which can lead to injury. From a performance point of view, the role of flexibility in a healthy runner with normal range of motion (ROM) is often overstated; in fact, increases in flexibility in runners are associated with a decrease in speed if taken too far. But if ROM is inhibited, it should be addressed.

Ideally, stretches should be performed after a workout, or at least after a short warm-up. Cold muscles are less pliable and more susceptible to injury. There is a lack of scientific evidence for the ideal duration of stretching, but for static stretching, 15 to 30 seconds is a safe recommendation. Stretching is definitely not a “if some is good, more is better” activity, so never stretch to the point of pain.

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching is a popular form of stretching among athletes and is recommended before engaging in training activities. Static stretching means to stretch and hold a position; dynamic stretching includes a gentle and progressive movement pattern through a comfortable range of motion that does not exceed that of a static stretch. Going beyond that range would be considered a ballistic stretch, which is not recommended. Dynamic stretching offers many benefits, such as increasing range of motion, increasing temperature, improving blood and oxygen flow to areas specific to the training activity, enhancing the nervous system and motor ability in preparation for training, and preventing training-related injuries.

Dynamic stretching is simple but requires caution. Begin with a short range of motion. As you warm up, increase the range of motion toward your maximum level. The walking lunge and carioca are two examples of dynamic stretches popular among triathletes and runners. For the walking lunge, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and step forward with the leading foot to assume a lunge position. While supporting your body weight on your leading foot, stand erect again and step forward with the opposite foot. Repeat this series of walking lunges for 10 steps with each leg and then repeat. The carioca is a good dynamic stretch that targets the hips and other areas of lateral movement. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Cross the left foot over and in front of the right foot. Repeat with the right foot crossing the left foot in a lateral movement, gently twisting at the hips. Travel for 30 to 50 feet (10 to 15 m) in one direction and then the other.

The addition of dynamic stretching to your training will pay off by reducing your risk of injury and improving your training performance.

Basic Stretching

The basic stretches that follow are specific to the muscles used in triathlon training. They should be considered essential to the prevention of overuse injuries that are common to triathletes. Use gentle motion until an easy stretch is felt. Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat two or three times. Bouncing, what was once referred to as ballistic stretching, can be detrimental and is not recommended.

Spend some time doing these gentle stretches. They feel good, help improve range of motion, and help you recover from injury.