Stretching: Overrated or Under-Utilized?

by Mayrene T. Earle | Sep 03, 2009
Have you ever watched cats get up after sleeping in the sun?

Have you ever watched cats get up after sleeping in the sun? Their stretches look so relaxed and comfortable. In his book Stretching, Bob Anderson writes that “there is something in our bodies that makes us want to elongate.”

Unfortunately, this desire to “elongate” has eluded many of the rowers I coach. (Me too, by the way.)

Yet stretching should be the foundation of everyone’s training program. Stretching reduces the risk of injury and helps decrease muscle soreness. Stretching also increases range of motion, which is reflected in better performance.

Just how to go about stretching effectively is a controversial subject and a topic of frequent debate on the US Rowing masters Yahoo! group and elsewhere. You’ll find many articles declaring the best stretching methods.

During my 35 years as a physical educator and coach, I have learned the “best” way to stretch several times over. Some methods that have been touted as the best have been: bouncing; holding for 60 seconds; holding for 1-2 seconds; stretching BEFORE working out; or stretching AFTER a workout. One thing everyone agrees is that warming up is a key component of fitness and exercise.

Several collegiate athletic trainers I’ve spoken with seem to agree that the best approach incorporates three phases – warm-up, followed by static stretching and then dynamic stretching. I used this regimen at my last clinic, and the athletes gave me a lot of positive feedback.

1. The Warm-up

Why warm up? We do this to prevent muscle strains and pulls. Erging five to 10 minutes at 50 percent increases your blood flow and produces a light sweat, indicating your muscles are warm and making your stretching safer and more effective.

2. Static Stretching

Next, you are ready to stretch the major muscle groups of your body for another five minutes. This should be static stretching, that is holding stretches for a few seconds.

3. Dynamic Stretching

Finally, you need to do dynamic stretching. If you have gone to regattas where there are collegiate rowers racing, you’ve seen this form of stretching.
Dynamic stretching is a gentle bounce or swinging motion, moving the body past its usual range of motion. It should include six to eight exercises. Dynamic stretching is sports-specific and is best coached by a professional.

When stretching dynamically, it is especially important to do it CORRECTLY. Form counts!


Here are dynamic stretches used by the women’s crew at Oregon State University:

1. Spiderman – take a lunge and drop your elbow to the floor next to your instep.

2. Butt Kickers – walk with torso straight and kick your buttocks with your heel every step.

3. High Knees – walk or jog with a straight torso and bring your knee to your chest.

4. Forward Skips with Forward Arm Swing – knees up and toes up, with good posture. (Don’t let the chest drop forward when swinging the arms.)

5. Backward Skips with Backward Arm Swing – knees up and toes up, good posture. (Again, don’t let the chest drop forward when swinging the arms.)

6. Squat push knees out – flat feet, keep the back flat, don’t let the chest drop forward, push the knees out with the elbows.

8. Crossover Hamstring – step and bring one foot in front of the other, sit the hips back and reach for the toes. Note: it is very important to keep the back flat, even if you can’t reach your toes.

9. Ankle Grabs – step and grab your ankle with your hand, bringing it up to your butt; alternate ankles with each step, maintain good posture.

After the Row

You must incorporate a post-row stretch. This stretches and elongates muscles that have shortened during training. It also helps reduce your recovery time between practices.

Good luck. I look forward to hearing how this works for you.

Mayrene T. Earle, M.Ed., is founder of MastersCoaching. She conducts camps and clinics for masters rowers around the world. She also provides coaching for coaches. Contact Mayrene at . Copyright 2009 © Mayrene T. Earle. All rights reserved.

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