Training to be a successful multi-sport athlete not only means many hours of training in the water, on your bike, or on your feet, but it also means plenty of recovery time. During this off-period, you must take advantage of replenishing your muscle glycogen stores with proper post-workout nutrition, in addition simply putting your feet up. One of the most beneficial activities that the multi-sporter can do when not training is to stretch. Not only do we not do it enough, but we often don’t know what the best stretches are. Stretching has been shown to warm up the muscles, improve flexibility, and prevent injury. It only takes 15 minutes a day in order to get an effective stretching routine in, and you will have fun doing it. I am here to let you in on the five best stretches for you to perform both prior and after your workouts and/or races that will keep you moving with ease and pain-free, in a very short time.
Some Important Things To Remember Before You Begin Your Stretches
You want to stretch during both your warm up and cool down periods. Sometimes, it is also effective to stretch during your workout, as most world-class distance runners do, because the act of stretching increases blood flow to the muscles. For instance, they may run for 30 minutes, take 5-10 minutes to stretch, and then continue running for 30-45 minutes. After cycling or running workouts, stretching has been shown to be effective for removing lactic acid from the muscles, which helps with recovery and overall better flexibility.
“Don’t Kill It”- A triathlon coach of mine once told me that you don’t have to “kill” a stretch, or overstretch, in order for it to be effective. Essentially, don’t force it if you are too tight to get the range of motion you think is due to you. You want to be careful not to stretch too much when recovering from an injury, as well as keeping your stretches static (or non-moving), unless otherwise noted in your athletic program.
5 EFFECTIVE STRETCHES IN FIFTEEN MINUTES
#1. FLEXOR FOOT BACK: (What you are stretching: Hip Flexors)
Get down on your knees and put your right knee up, with your foot flat on the ground. Your left foot should be slightly raised off of the ground, you can do this by finding a step to rest it on that is at least 6″ off of the ground. You are stretching your left hip flexor as your right knee is up, so you want to lean slightly forward with your shoulders back (don’t lean forward too much or bend at the waist, you will ruin the effectiveness of the stretch.) For a slight variation, you can rotate your hips slightly to the right and/or left to get a bit more stretch. Hold for about 20-30 seconds, each leg and repeat if necessary.
#2. BOOTY BAND TWIST: (What you are stretching: IT Band/Glutes)
Sit on the ground and cross your right leg over your left leg, hugging your right knee into your chest as you bend your left leg, so that your left heel of your foot is in contact of your right butt cheek. You should strive to hug your right knee into your chest, while keeping your right heel down. You want to hold this for about 30 seconds, and then switch your legs. You can repeat for 3 times each.
#3. THE UP AND OVER: (What you are stretching: Chest/Shoulder)
Stand with both arms behind your back, clasping your hands together. Then, under control, bend forward and bring your arms up over your head, keeping your hands together and arms behind your back. You want to bring your arms up as far as you can bring them while still keeping this position. You should feel a good stretch in your shoulders and arms.
#4. QUADZILLA: (What you are stretching: Quadriceps)
Stand with one leg forward, and the other knee bent behind you, on a table or bench that is about 3 feet high. Your trailing leg should be relaxed and resting on the bench, the top of your leg touching the bench, while your leg that is out in front is supporting your body weight slightly as well. You want to reach back and grab your rear foot and, with control, bring it slightly toward your buttocks. You will feel this stretch in your quad of that rear leg. You want to keep your body as erect as possible and hold for about 20 seconds. Repeat with your opposite leg and then perform about 3 sets or as many is necessary. If this is too much of a stretch to do using a bench, you can do this by simply lying on the floor and grabbing one ankle at a time and reaching back to touch your heel to your buttocks.
#5. STANDING HAMMY– (What you are stretching: Hamstrings)
You want to find a table and or barstool (that height would be perfect) that is at least the height of the top of your hip. Place your right foot on top of the table and or seat of the barstool, keeping your right leg straight and your toes pointed straight up. Your left foot, which is on the ground, should also be pointed straight, in line with your right foot. You want to stand with shoulders back and head up, and then slightly rotate your hips to the left and to the right, holding for about 3 seconds each side for a total of 10 reps, each leg. You will feel this stretch in the back of your legs in your hamstrings, as well as in your glutes of the leg that is being actively stretched.