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the rise and fall of the no-stretch athlete

i used to stretch.

having played a number of individual and team sports through my high-school and college days i always incorporated a specific amount of time to pre-activity stretching.  it was usually of the static variety – you know, pull/bend/press and hold for a 20 count and the like.  i felt like it was a way of limbering up and helping to ensure that i wouldn’t risk any real pain or injury in the course of exercise.

that was until i started running.

i remember that i was in the throes of training for my first half-marathon and happened to be at a conference in the outskirts of detroit when i first was introduced to the benefits of not stretching.  i happened to be rooming with another delegate to the event who was from south africa.  his name was hermann, and in the course of getting to know one another i discovered that he was a runner as well – and not only a runner, but a two-time finisher of the comrades marathon.  when we decided to head out for a few runs together he noted that he did not really perform any pre-workout stretching because his understanding and belief was that the best warmup and stretching for running was, well, light running.

and who was i to argue to an accomplished ultramarathoner?

i would go on to do some reading and research of my own, and based on various articles (e.g. this one and this one) and other bits of advice i decided that i would limit my pre-run routine to just a quick cycle of the lunge-matrix.

to be honest this approach of very limited warm-up has served me well – in about six years of running (at anywhere from 3000-5000 kilometres per year) i’ve continued to see improvements and not had to take anything more than two unplanned days off at a time from my training schedules.  i’ve had no significant injuries to contend with – even my knee issues earlier this year i believe can be traced to an error in running form while descending on trails (i tried to tackle downhills in slalom fashion and wound up putting unnecessary strain on some anterior ligaments).  for the record i should also say that i don’t do any post-run stretching, and have never felt like i needed to foam-roll or avail myself of massage.  just a regular dose of gonstead chiropractic adjustments from my good buddy dr. brad norman … not too shabby for a guy who’s cresting over the mid-life hump and has a surgically repaired achilles tendon.

and then came yoga.

my friend and fellow RunNinja marcy (a certified yoga instructor) has started offering free yoga classes before our saturday morning group runs.  i thought that i would definitely want to support her, and as well that some guided yoga might prove helpful as a form of cross-training.  so the first week i went in after putting in some early morning miles with my friend mike, and all seemed to go well.  i was able to follow along without making a complete buffoon of myself, and everything seemed to feel good.  by the way, marcy is a phenomenal leader and was incredibly engaging and encouraging to all of us who joined in for the class – as a first-timer i knew that if she made me feel comfortable as i stuck my butt out into other people’s faces, that everyone must be enjoying how she conducted things.

it wasn’t until the next evening that the pain hit.

my best description of it is as a major strain of the rear internal oblique muscle.  it wasn’t just tight – it sent radiating pain out whenever i turned to my left, and was worst when i tried to roll over to my left side in bed.  for the next five nights it would wake me up every time i shifted in that direction, and i could feel it in any transverse movements during my morning runs but would subside in intensity over the course of the day.  it also progressively felt better as the week wore on, but i (foolishly or not) seemed to have re-aggravated it by attending a second yoga class on the subsequent saturday.

i’m not sure whether or not it was just a matter of having overextended myself during that first yoga class because i entered it all warmed up.  my body may not have provided the same kind of immediate feedback that i was stretching just that wee bit too far.  however, since then i’ve also been reading about how yoga can be risky for the uninitiated, a category into which i would most certainly fall.

so for now i’ll need to back off yoga and stick with running – but i do so reluctantly because of (a) how great an instructor marcy is and (b) my sense that yoga can still be of real benefit to me if i get a bit smarter about it.  hopefully after a bit of margin to let those hurting fibres recuperate i’ll be flaunting my activewear pants in yoga class again.

are you the type to do a lot of stretching?  how much, and when?  do you focus on static, dynamic, active isolated or a combination of all of them?  have you ever gotten injured during yoga?

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