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Training Tips from
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  • Active-Isolated Stretching
    by Kevin Jermyn, TrackCoach.com

    Stretching has been a hot topic within the running community for years, with much of the debate centered upon whether or not stretching is not actually good for you and if so, what type of stretching actually works. Most of the studies on stretching have shown mixed results as to the benefits of stretching, but the problem lies in the types of stretching routines they examined. Science has documented the incredible gains that proper stretching can add to your training program. Stretching will help you achieve greater flexibility, which will translate into a greater stride length that can help you shave valuable seconds off your personal best. For instance, researchers analyzed two runners in the 1992 New York City Marathon to monitor their gait patterns and to count their steps. They found that although the two runners had similar gaits, the runner with the longer stride took fewer steps to cover the 26.2 mile distance, ran faster, more comfortably, and also recovered quickly. Thus it is quite evident that a runner can easily shave seconds off of their personal bests just by increasing flexibility and stride length. Additionally, stretching has also been shown to promote recovery by increasing blood flow and oxygenation to our tired muscles, flushing them of waste products such as lactic acid.

    Now that we know that stretching is good for us, what is the proper way to stretch? Should you hold a stretch for at least 30 seconds, or should you bounce up and down to get a good stretch? The answer to both is a resounding no, as most of today's current research is saying that this form of stretching can actually lead to injury. When you stretch a muscle through a bouncing and pulling motion, your muscles have a natural tendency to protect themselves from this violent motion by quickly contracting back to the range it considers normal. Science tells us that only a relaxed muscle will allow itself to be stretched, so the key to a successful stretching routine is to find a way to integrate relaxation. The best way to do this is through active-isolated stretching. With active isolated stretching, you only stretch one isolated muscle at a time. To relax the isolated muscle, you actually need to contract the muscle that is opposite the isolated muscle. Stretch the isolated muscle gently and only for 2 seconds or less. The key to this revolutionary stretch is to release the stretch before the muscle reacts to the stretch by going into its protective contraction. This way you stretch the muscle, augmenting your flexibility, without getting the opposite effect of muscular tightening that you will often get with other stretching routines. Go ahead and repeat the stretch 8 to 12 times, then repeat on all the major muscle groups (i.e. hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, buttocks, lower back, etc.), and you will be on your way to achieving greater flexibility, improved stride length and cadence, and ultimately to a new personal best. Best of all, with active-isolated stretching, you do not need to warm-up before you stretch, as the stretching routine is actually warm-up. Just ease into each stretch, and watch as your range of motion increases with each stretch. Try this stretching routine for thee weeks and I am sure you will see positive results. For more information on active-isolated stretching read The Whartons Stretch Book by Jim and Phil Wharton.

    Active Isolated Stretching Tips
    1. Focus on stretching one isolated muscle at a time.
    2. To relax the isolated muscle, actively contract the muscle that is opposite the isolated muscle (i.e. to stretch the hamstring, contract the quadriceps muscle).
    3. Stretch gently and quickly, holding the stretch for no more than 2 seconds.
    4. Release the stretch before the muscle reacts to being stretched (by going into its protective contraction).
    5. Repeat the stretch 8 to 12 times for each isolated muscle.


    TrackCoach.com provides personal coaching services to runners of all types, ages, and abilities. Our coaching staff is dedicated to helping runners of all types, from milers to marathoners, and of all abilities, from the beginner to the elite, to reach their personal best. So whether your reasons for running are to train for the Olympics, finish your first marathon, or just to improve your health and relieve stress, TrackCoach.com will provide you with the means to reach your goals.

    Contact Trackcoach.com today!

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