Monday, July 14, 2008


One of the most common and difficult to combat misconceptions is stretching. Stretching is probably the most popular and most practiced waste of time in the racing community. Runners are especially prone to it, but even cyclists, swimmers and triathletes can't keep quiet when it comes to stretching. It may therefore surprise you to learn that there is no scientific evidence to show that stretching does any good at all. To put it simply: it is a waste of time.

Along with yoga, pilates, core exercises, massages, etc. Mind you, I am not saying that these activities cannot be enjoyable or relaxing. I do enjoy a good massage, but preferably in another setting. I am also not saying that you should not engage in these activities if you find them pleasurable or fun. All I am saying is that these will do nothing for you performance-wise, and that if you are on a tight schedule, all you can hope to accomplish here is waste more time.

Studies clearly show that stretching does not prevent injury. It doesn't strengthen your muscle or in any way enhance your performance. Gentle rubbing and stretching does provide some relief when you have a cramp but resting the affected part is probably key. Cramps go away when you stop working the affected muscle. Remember that when you stop to stretch, or to dig up some salt tablets, or to take a drink, it is the rest that matters, not the placebo action.

Since I never engaged in any athletic activity until I was well over 30, I never thought of stretching. My friends at the time were not athletic either and when I suddenly started riding a bike, they were as puzzled as I was. They certainly never told me to stretch. As a matter of fact, they weren't all that interested in all my bike talk and for sure wished it would simply go away. I was never officially part of a club or a team, and I would meet the people I was riding with along the course, so I never saw anyone stretch either beforehand or afterwards.

I never stretched and I never will. I tried it a few times for social reasons but found it to be of no benefit and a huge waste of time.  Whenever a training partner insists on stretching I make a note of it, and the next time I meet them along the course. I always just start running, biking or swimming. There are only so many hours in a day, and I can ill afford wasting time forcing my body into weird positions that are slightly painful.

While I do experience my fair share of aches and pains, these are no different from what others with similar training intensities go through. I have been fortunate to have had very few objective injuries. And it is not for lack of trying. Or for lack of predisposition. My leg alignment for example is quite poor, and my foot strike is far from perfect. Yet I run marathons in light racing shoes, with no orthotics or other contraptions.  And I don't waste my time stretching. Neither should you.

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