Monday, January 26, 2009

Kicking into gear

The last week has been focused on getting time on the bike, interval training, running for cross training, along with core workout three times a week...oh and work let's not forget that.

My time on the bike has been divided between both road and mountain; mostly road right now as I work on hills and build up aerobic strength and build up endurance. This past weekend I did a run which included hills and plenty of them. I feel good; a little sore on Sunday; but overall I felt like I could continue after I finished a run.

During one of the rides I had an interesting conversation about how much stretching I do, when I do it, and has it helped. I can say this; if it weren't for stretching and pilates I wouldn't have half the riding ability I do today.

I hear it so often; no time to stretch after working out, to sore(??), will do it when I get home..So why stretch; well one it improves flexibility, thus improving muscle balance, which minimizes chance of injury and reduces soreness to muscles after training.

My own experience as an athlete was set aside 20 minutes per day usually morning to stretch along with post workout stretch. Now usually this stretching had me holding a stretch between 30 seconds to a minute; with the thought that the stretch (static) was doing what it was meant to do; lengthen the muscle. There would be days I the soreness in my muscles would increase after the stretch; but I always thought that's what is meant to happen.

I started looking around and seeing what other trainers, coaches, and athletes were doing in terms of stretches; and in some cases seeing quicker gains on others then I was witnessing on myself. I saw them working with stretching ropes and doing slow motion sprints with leg kick holding for very short periods of time, releasing, then repeating 10 to 12 times. This observation would be my introduction to a form of stretching called active isolated stretching (AIS); and I spoke to other athletes; their endorsement and the improvements notices; I knew this was the change I was looking for in my routine.

Unlike the traditional static stretching routines where one eases into a position and holds it for a period time the reflex causes the muscles tremble as it fights the stretch which invites injury to the muscle. While this type of stretching is better then no stretching it has its limitations; since the muscle has a stretch "reflex" that is activated after a rapid movement or a short period after the stretch

AIS has a different take or thought process on how to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of trauma on the muscle by putting the body
into best anatomical position both to maximize an isolated stretch and reduce the chance of injury. You hold each position for only two to three seconds; then you return to the start position and relax.

The stretch is repeated eight to 12 times for optimal results. The benefit of repetitions is to increase blood flow oxygen, and nutrition to the muscle tissues. In effect, AIS is a warm-up in itself.

While stretching is not the quick answer to injury problems; it is recommended athletes stretch prior to training to prepare the muscles (AIS); and post training gentle stretching to regain any flexibility lost during hard exercises and muscle fatigue.

As runners, cyclist, and other endurance athletes get older; they lose range of motion. Stretching is the best method to maintain flexibility.

I recommend doing the exercises below; repeating the movements up to 12 times.

Single Leg Pelvis Tilt
Muscles stretched: low back and gluteus maximus

Lie on back with legs straight. Flex the exercising knee and pull it toward chest by contraction of hip flexor and abdominal muscles. Place hands behind thigh to prevent pressure on knee and provide assistance.

Straight leg hamstring
Muscles stretched: hamstrings

Lie on back with legs straight. Slowly lift one leg using quadriceps (front of thigh). Assist with rope at end of movement. Note: if you have a history of back injury, bend the non-exercising leg to stabilise the spine.

Muscles stretched: gluteus mediusminimus, lateral hip, piriformis

Lie on back with legs straight. Flex left knee at 90 degree and left and place rope around mid-foot, clasping rope with opposite hand. Use left hand to stabilize thigh by clasping at knee. Contract abdomen and hip adductors to lift knee towards opposite shoulder. Assist with rope and outer hand.

Muscles stretched: external rotators of hip including piriformis, tensor fascia latae, and iliotibial band

Lie on back with left leg moved inward across center line, foot pointed inward. Wrap rope around arch of right foot. With knee straight, contract quadriceps, upper hip, and abdomens to (1) lift leg toward chest (see pic) and (2) bring leg across hips.

Muscles stretched: rectus femoris

Lie on left side and bring both knees to chest. With the left hand grasp foot from outside. With right hand, grasp right ankle and extend right thigh back by contracting buttocks and hamstrings and, assisting with hand, heel should press into buttocks.

Hip Flexor
Muscles stretched: rectus femoris

Kneel down on left knee (place pillow or cushion under same knee). Moving forward onto flexed front leg (right) keep pelvis and back stable by contracting the abdomen. As you move forward, contract buttocks and hamstrings to flex left heel to left buttock. Assist stretch with one or both hands, bringing heel to buttock as flexibility allows.

Adductors (long)
Muscles stretched:long adductors, longus, magnus, gracilis

Lie on back with legs extended and wrap rope around arch of left foot. Point left foot inward and lift leg to side by contracting outer thigh and hip muscles. Assist with rope, pulling outward.
Adductors (short)
Muscles stretched: short adductors, pectinius, adductor brevis, proximal and long adductors

Sit with soles of feet placed together. Contract outside of hips, spreading thighs as far as possible. Use arms between knees to assist stretch at end of movement.

Achilles tendon/soleus
Muscles stretched: lower and deep calf including Achilles tendon

Sit with right leg fully straight and left knee bent at 90 degrees. Wrap hands around balls of foot. Lift toes toward body, contracting shin muscles and assisting with pull from hands.

Upper Calf
Muscles stretched: gastrocnemius

Sit with legs fully extended and about six inches apart. Loop rope around the ball of left foot. Straighten left knee and pull toes towards you by contracting shin muscles. Assist with rope. For deeper stretch, lean forward at trunk and allow foot to leave floor when pulled.

Source: Trinity College Dublin Athletic Club

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