People know they should stretch. Having been involved firsthand with fitness since I was sixteen and including my time working towards a degree in physical therapy it was very apparent how useful stretching is to the human body. Yet, even I fell into the trap of being young and ignoring what I should do in favor of just ‘getting to it’.
Ah the mistakes of youth.
Make no doubt about it, it was a mistake. Yes, for years there was never a problem of me doing very minor stretching before loping off on a run or playing basketball. But the years passed and that lack of prevention caught up to me one day in a very abrupt and painful way. Now I understand the error of my ways.
Everyone knows the answer to this right one, right? We stretch to loosen up the muscles and make yourself more limber. But it is more than just that. The tendons and joints need to be flexed and stretched and the blood needs to get flowing in these areas. Along with becoming more limber we are also trying to help prevent injuries that can occur when the body is still tight. This become much more commonplace as you get older and lose a lot of the natural elasticity you had when you were young. Increased tightness leads to limited range of motion which in turn means more chances to overload an area and causing strain because it wasn’t built to move what it now has to move.
We also stretch after workouts to prevent muscles from tightening up too much, to relax, and start the healing process. Of course consistent stretching can also help your athletic performance.
Make a Routine
After my injury stretching became part of the program; it was too important to ignore or skip. The bottom line was if I wanted to run then I needed to stretch. If there wasn’t time to stretch before and after the run (even a shorter run) then I just don’t go. The risk of another injury is not worth it. Sure I can feel great and have been active all day but I felt great on the day of my injury as well; the following weeks after it was another story.
So now my running routine includes mandatory stretching. But I have learned to enjoy it and make it fun instead of a chore. After getting changed into my running clothes I put on the beginning of my running mix which is three songs I use just for stretching. I made my own routine moving from one movement to the next in an order I like. While I am doing the stretches I think about the run, where I will go, and the goals for time, etc. Unlike before, now I enjoy the feeling of my body getting loose and long while the music fires me up.
Then I start my warm-up (slow walking to medium walking for a few minutes) and stretch one last time on my tightest trouble spots. This is just an extra precaution before I take that first step. The entire scenario replays itself at the end of the run. The same walking cool-down takes place. After I come inside and drink a post-workout shake it is back to the mat for more stretching but this time with three much mellower songs. Stretches are held a bit longer but the sequence is the same.
Since that fateful day where I realized that I was too tight and not stretching enough everything has been better. There has not been a single injury, my running has improved, and my recovery period is much less with reduced soreness. Pretty much everything that we talk about stretching doing, it did. The end result is I am in better shape and less prone to injuries. Maybe I miss a run here and there because of time but that is a lot better than missing weeks or more because I thought I was immune to the problems of aging.