Tips for incorporating stretching into your routine

Credit: Nathan Bilow/Allsport
Two-time Ironman champ Scott Tinley estimates that in a normal training week he runs 75 miles, bikes 300, swims 10 more, and maintains a regular weight-training routine.

But when he's asked to pick the activity that helps his running more than any other, Tinley's answer is a surprise: stretching.

"When you take those five activities ? running, cycling, swimming, weight-training and stretching ? it adds up to a full week," Tinley says. "Yet I always make time for stretching."

And because stretching cold muscles is a quick way to get injured, Tinley doesn't limber up before training.

"I just run very slowly for the first couple of miles until things loosen up," he says.

Right after running, he finds a quiet spot on the floor and performs a basic series of stretches, working every muscle group in both upper and lower body, "especially the chronically tight ones" ? that is, the glutes, hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, calves and Achilles tendons.

He takes 20 minutes for stretching each day, and more if he's doing a lot of racing.

Tinley is wary of telling others which stretches to do ("everybody has their favorites"), but he has some good tips on how to approach each session:

First, get in the habit. If you make time after every run, it becomes second nature. "It's important to think of it as a part of your training, not as merely supplemental," Tinley says.

Second, ease into it and through it, performing each stretch in super-slow motion. Muscles naturally tense during the first few seconds of a stretch, and this effect is only heightened by overanxious efforts to force unwilling muscles to obey.

Finally, stretching is not a competitive endeavor. In other words, don't try to force flexibility that your muscles aren't ready for. Achieving a limber state is a slow, day-by-day process that involves listening to your body and working each muscle group.

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