Who doesn’t love to talk about stretching?! Who doesn’t love stretching?! Especially during the off-season! Some of us do a pretty good job staying in shape between Put-Away Day in the fall and Take-Down Day in the spring. Some of us do an even better job of Putting-Away ice cream and Taking-Down the Christmas Tree with warm Baileys with all its calories.
Whatever your favorite winter pastime, that first day on the water will be here before you know it, and I have put it into my head that I’ll start the upcoming season fit as a fiddle (I saw Fiddler on the Roof last week and that fiddle was, in fact, looking fit) and loose as a goose (pretending that geese have hamstrings perfectly toned easily released). Also, as I try to practice what I preach at least every other month or so, for this blog I’m going to preach about stretching and then tomorrow or the next day I’m going to practice it.
Rowing is a full-body yet leg-centric, sport, and very cardiovascularly taxing. With regard to all those muscles used, detailed in this article from the Concept 2 website, the body as a whole WILL adapt to the forces placed on it; if all we ask our muscles to do is contract and contract and not give them the opportunity to relax and lengthen, they will shorten and thicken over time and most of us know what it feels like to bend over and not be able to touch our toes.
One more thing I’ll add to the info in the Concept 2 article is that as you reach the finish and pop your oar out of the water, your abdominals and hip flexors contract to stop the layback. Ideally, strong abs will take a lot of the work off the hip flexors, but both groups are working, and the challenging part is that both are LENGTHENING as they are contracting, called an eccentric contraction. You can feel them during pause drills at the finish. Multiply this by a thousand strokes during a practice or over a hundred at high pressure during a 1000m race, not to mention head races (who the hell invented head season anyway? )
Stretching sucks. It’s a pain in the butt (especially when you’re stretching the butt muscles). It’s boring. But here’s the upshot: longer hamstrings, hip flexors, and back muscles translate to longer strokes and slower slides. Many of us leave practice and sit at a desk all day, or vice versa. And some drive a half hour to the office in between. Sitting means short hip flexors and often relaxed abs. I recently built a standing desk for my office, and while I’m not sitting as much in between patients, the fact that I’m standing more means, you guessed it, more need for stretching those leg muscles that contract all day.
Newer research on the science of stretching has resulted in the push for two different types:
- Active Stretching: done after a 5 minute warmup BEFORE practice or racing. Warmup means light running or erging or jumping jacks or something to get your heart pumping and your body warm. Once you start feeling the temperature difference, you’ll know you’re warm. OK, that’s kind of a “duh” statement. Here’s a video of a great active stretch routine.
- Static Stretching: This is where we lengthen our muscles that have shortened over time. These are best done after practice, and/or at night before bed. Don’t do these before exercising or racing. Neurologically they “turn off” your muscles and performance will drop. Click HERE for a few basic stretches that will make us better rowers with longer strokes and faster erg times. A good stretch should be held for 20-30 seconds and done regularly.