Every time I stretch I ask myself why it's been so long since I stretched. It always feels good. And I'm pretty sure it's beneficial to my body. Feels good, good for me … one is tempted to use that phrase that got used to death. You know the one: What's not to like?
Well, there's been a fair bit of research into stretching and there's agreement that stretching as it is often employed can be harmful. Stretching before a workout, especially static stretching, can decrease muscle strength in the activity that follows. But I've never liked stretching before workouts as a warmup, anyway. A good warmup for me consists of 10-15 minutes of jogging, and maybe some very short, harder bursts. Even better is to start off with 10 minutes of easy spinning on the bike.
I do my stretching well after a workout, after my body has calmed down. A lot of it isn't even stretching. I lay on my back and pull my knees up to my chest, holding onto my shins and pulling down. I hold this position while rocking from side to side on my back. This really loosens up my hips, which in the last couple of years have become tighter and occasionally painful.
I do a lot of other stuff, but I'm pretty sure a blow-by-blow description wouldn't be thrilling reading. It takes 20 minutes to a half-hour in all. When I'm done, I breathe easier. I'm relaxed. It feels like the blood is flowing to the muscles and joints that got beat up during the workout or workouts that day.
Today, I did a lot of shoulder, back and neck stretching, because today was another swim. I wanted to run or bike, but the schedule just didn't allow for it. So I did my seventh swim in 10 days. Can you believe that? As a work associate said today, employing what I fear will be the next overused phrase, "That's crazy-talk." But I remember the Slowtwitch guy, the founder, whose name I can't recall right now, writing a piece a couple of years ago recommending occasional big weeks of swimming. His view was that it could result in real advances, even for triathletes who'd pretty much given up on becoming decent swimmers. Maybe, maybe not. I've got a very calm attitude about it. After all, I stretched.