You mention either stretching or recovery and the normal response will be “oh yeah I stretch sometimes” or “no not really, what’s the point?”
As a coach it is clear why these two are so important… As athletes so much time is spent on doing the sessions but no one is stopping to think that if we were to add in a yoga class once a week, we could increase our speed. Alternatively, perhaps a recovery week will allow our bodies to process the training and turn it into progressive fitness and strength gain.
If these areas are not key to your performance then why do the Professionals spend so much time on them?
Below we have benefits of stretching:
- Increased flexibility and range of movement
- Injury prevention
- Preventing DOMS
- Improved posture
- Improvements in sports performance
- Stress relief
We can now look at each of these areas:
Increased flexibility and range of motion:
This is the most obvious benefit of regular stretching and usually the reason that people start a stretching programme. However, reasons for stretching usually go much deeper than this. For example, why do you want to increase your flexibility?
Range of movement on an XC bike is really important while still maintaining power output.
Being flexible can help to prevent injuries. This can include acute injuries, such as a hamstring strain and also overuse injuries such as IT band syndrome or plantar fasciitis. The old school of thought was that static stretching pre training/racing would help however this has now been replaced by dynamic stretching.
Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS) occurs 24-48 hours after exercise. It is thought to be due to microscopic tears in the muscle. Stretching before and after training is thought to minimize this damage.
In many cases of poor posture, which has developed over time, muscle imbalances are to blame. A good example is the chest muscles becoming shortened in people who slouch over a computer for long periods. Stretching these muscles can help to improve posture. The slouch position will limit your ability to engage your gluteal muscles in your pedal action and so therefore put pressure on your back and limit performance.
Improving sporting performance:
Many sports obviously require high levels of flexibility, for example athletics and gymnastics… In order to have healthy muscles, they must be flexible. This will help to prevent injuries as already discussed, but it will also allow you to develop strength through the full range of motion at the joint. This gives an advantage over someone who has a limited range.
Muscle tightness is often associated with stress – we tend to tighten up when stressed, for example, the neck muscles. Stretching relaxes these muscles and you at the same time!
Now we have dealt with stretching we need to look at why we need to add recovery sessions and recovery weeks into our training plans:
We only get fitter and stronger when we rest! Our bodies need a timeout to take on and adapt to all the training that we have been doing. If we continually train without a featured rest day, we can suffer from overtraining syndrome, which is not easy to get over!
As I have mentioned before, the human body is really clever and it will adapt to being stressed. A well-structured training plan will give an athlete enough rest to make sure they progress without overtraining. Getting the balance right between training and resting is what lifts an athlete to a higher level of performance.
Getting an athlete to understand that when they rest, they actually get fitter is not easy. As athletes we tend to want to be ‘on it’ every day and feel huge amounts of guilt if we don’t train – if this is you, be strong! Force a rest day and you will notice the gains very quickly. You can always look at taking an active rest day, which is to go and ride for a short time (30mins) in easy gear so no stress or overload. You will at least feel that you have done something and help trick your brain.
To learn more about how to and when to stretch and how much recovery you need in your plan drop us an email.