When triathlon coach Paul Huddle and I got together in 1988 to produce the first flexibility material for triathletes, it was a meeting of two opposites: the hopelessly inflexible meets Gumby. Let's face it; the tri community is fun, but tight.
Where can the hopelessly inflexible start? First, it helps to understand that some stretching is necessary in order to prevent injury and perform at your best. To start, follow two easy steps: Bend the knees and go extra easy.
With the knees bent, forward stretches will feel better and be more effective at the hips, your prime area of mobility, and it will protect your hamstrings—a vulnerable muscle.
Easy stretching can be difficult for some, so keep your breath even and smooth. Stretching should feel like you're lying around, chilling out, but you should also be aware of the muscles involved in the stretch. Athletes will often fight the stretch; instead adjust the stretches and enjoy.
Here, I have offered stretches that will help you work on your knee bend and your ability to relax. Good luck.
Standing Forward Bend
The standing forward bend does it all. It releases your mid back, relaxes your hips and harmonizes your nervous system. Those of you who are extra tight will love this stretch—but remember to bend your knees. More specifically, bend them enough so that the top of the thigh touches the lower abdominal area at the end of the stretch.
- Begin in a standing position, and take a deep breath in.
- As you exhale, bend your knees slightly, keep the chest lifted, and bend forward from the hips. When the lower abs touch the thighs, release the chest over the legs, drop your head and relax.
- Take a few deep breaths, holding this position.
- Inhale, lift and arch the chest two to four inches off the legs. Exhale, drop the torso again and fold over the legs. Repeat three times.
- Relax over the legs for four breaths.
Athletes like to use the twist at the end of their stretch. It can be used to address tight hips, kidneys and abdominal muscles. In addition, the twist will balance the sacroiliac joint. If you have a disk injury, this stretch is not recommended.
In a twist, the less you push the movement, the better it will feel and work. You might feel like you should intensify the stretch by changing positions, but it's not necessary—resist the urge to change position. This is a powerful stretch, so simply relaxing into it will provide the greatest benefits.
- Lie on your back with knees bent in toward the chest and your arms out to the side.
- As you exhale, drop your knees to one side, hold and inhale. Exhale as you drop your knees to the other side.
- Alternate from side to side. Repeat six times.
- Hold and relax on each side for eight breaths. Think about moving your ribs away from the hips.
Stretching is important because it will allow you to perform at your best. For the hopelessly inflexible, all the advantages of stretching are available. The key to stretching and training is to show up—the rest is easy. When you stretch, remember to relax your knees and take it easy.
Race and train forever!
Brian Dorfman holds a BS in kinesiology from UCLA and has over 25 years of experience helping world-class athletes and others reach their goals. His proven techniques keep athletes performing at their peak. For information or to purchase the Flexibility Training DVD visit www.briandorfman.com or call toll-free at 866-787-3348.