After a quick warm-up to get the blood flowing, stretching normally takes about 10 minutes (both before and after exercise). It should be slow and relaxed. As with most things, if you concentrate on doing it right, you'll reap the greatest benefits.
Because triathletes are athletes in three different sports, the exercises that benefit swimmers, cyclists and runners can be helpful for a triathlete.
Swimming is a full-body sport that uses a host of different muscle groups. Swimmers stretch their shoulder and arm muscles to improve the range of motion they have for their swimming stroke. And since all of the muscles in your body are connected, working the muscles in your back and sides can actually help to improve the range of motion in your shoulders. Focusing on the ankles can also be helpful for a swimmer because a greater range in ankle motion can lead to more efficient kicking.
A cyclist would focus primarily on the legs. Over time, the exertion and repetitive motion of regular cycling can actually lead to a loss of muscle flexibility, so it's important to counteract this by stretching the leg muscles [source: Burke]. Plus, like swimming, working on ankle flexibility can put more efficiency behind each pedal.
Runners, like cyclists, focus on the legs. The longer your leg muscles are, the longer your comfortable running stride can be. So elongating the calf muscles and hamstrings can help you cover a longer distance with each step.
There are two main categories of stretches: dynamic and static. Dynamic stretches involve motion and use the momentum of the body to perform the extension. These might include kicking, lunging, twisting the body and rotating the arms.
Static stretches, on the other hand, do not involve motion; instead, they involve holding the body in a fixed position for a few seconds. An example of a static stretch is reaching behind you to grab and hold your ankle (which pulls the hamstring).
Both types -- static and dynamic -- have their benefits, but studies show that dynamic stretching before competition is preferable because it increases blood flow and loosens up the muscles, while static stretching after competition is preferred because it's more relaxing and is a good cool-down exercise.
What happens if you get hurt while training for, or competing in, a triathlon? As it turns out, stretching can also help you recover when you've been injured. Read on to find out more.