Importance of Stretch Training for Triathletes
In its most basic form, stretching lengthens the body's muscles and, over time, can increase your reach and range of motion. By range of motion, we mean the distance parts of your body can move and rotate before causing damage to the soft tissues, like muscles and tendons. If you stretch regularly, you'll notice you can move parts of your body farther and easier than you could when you first started. In other words, you're improving your flexibility.
Being flexible means the freedom to move without resistance or pain, and for an athlete that is an important asset -- especially if you're competing in an event where you have to use your muscles in a bunch of different ways.
As a result of increased flexibility, you'll have better coordination. The easier your body can move through a range of motions, the better your coordination becomes, which can improve your technique and form in all areas of a triathlon, from pedaling and kicking to your running stride.
Another benefit of stretching is increased muscle power. Power in your muscles comes from their contraction; since power is positively affected by the length of the muscle, increasing your muscle length increases the potential power produced by its contraction. In other words, longer muscles are more powerful.
Stretching can even help reduce muscle fatigue. Every muscle in the body has an opposing muscle, or a muscle that is opposite of it. When one muscle contracts, it exerts force on its opposing muscle. If a muscle is more flexible, then it experiences less strain when its opposite muscle contracts.
There are even benefits after you exercise, such as decreasing muscle soreness. Stretching increases blood circulation, which helps flush out the waste in the muscle produced by exercise, like excess lactic acid. In addition, post-exercise stretching can relax muscles that have been tensed through physical activity, and relax your mind after a strenuous workout.
Clearly the time it takes to do a few pre- and post-workout exercises is worth it. But what body parts should a triathlete focus on stretching, and what types of stretches should be done? On the next page, we'll explore how some of the stretching exercises used by athletes in other sports can benefit a training triathlete.