By Martin Sigrist
A common theme in many of my articles is that training is, first and foremost, a question of mindset.
If you want to do achieve anything important the first essential step is to fully engage your mind, to give it a clear sense of purpose.
Purpose is one of the things that makes us humans special. Indeed it might be the single most important thing that makes us special. We are willing to invest huge amounts of time and effort, even risk our lives, for something intangible that we may not even achieve. At the level of the individual this makes no biological sense if we are warm, safe and well fed. But for our species as a whole this has made us the first that will shape our planet rather than it shape us.
Animals don’t have a sense of purpose. Birds migrate huge distances but not because they want to find out what is over the horizon. Termites build huge towers but for reasons quite different than those that inspired the people who built the pyramids, cathedrals and Empire State.
It is surprising then, given how important purpose is to us, that we so often get confused about it.
The most common example of this is confusing means with ends.
It’s a reflection of another of our talents, we are consummate builders and technicians. We enjoy the process of creating solutions to problems to the extent that this process of creation can become an end in itself.
Which can be a problem if focusing on the means means we then lose sight of the ends.
Which, bringing the subject back to earth, applies to the word “stretching” when used in the context of exercise.
The word “stretching” seems to be universal in all sports. It has sparked much debate about whether it is a “good” thing or a “bad” thing.
Such debate is, literally, meaningless.
Stretching is a means. In of itself it has no purpose and without that purpose you cannot say whether it is “good” or “bad”. It just is.
Rather than talk about stretching as a means instead the focus should be on mobility as a purpose.
The objective of mobility is clear, easy to understand and easy to check.
It is to be able to move our body freely through its full normal range of motion without impingement or pain.
With this in mind it then possible to discuss stretching and whether it is good or bad.
The answer is that it is both.
It’s bad if it is used to achieve mobility where attempting to stretch is either impossible or dangerous.
And its bad if stretching is thought of as the only way to achieve mobility. It isn’t, it is just one of many tools in the mobility toolbox.
However stretching is good when used to achieve mobility in some aspects, usually even more so when combined with some of the other tools in the tool box.
So please, if you include “stretching” as part of an exercise routine please stop. Instead replace it with the purpose of “improving mobility” (as a one stop shop for all you need to know about how to achieve this I recommend “The Supple Leopard”.)
Stretching might then be a component of that but only insofar as it is actually beneficial and not to the extent of being exclusive preventing the use of other techniques that will help with mobility and thus make not just sport but life as a whole a lot easier and less painful.
Now among the world’s fittest sexagenarians Martin Sigrist started riding on doctor’s orders in 2005 and had to push his bike up his first hill. Next year he soloed the Tour de France. He has since experienced every form of road cycling from criterium to ultra endurance. His ongoing mission is to use the latest in science and technology to fight a, so far successful, battle against Father Time.
Michael R. says
Perhaps I’m just stupid, but stretching as I see my pals before do before a match increases my joint and back pain so I don’t ever stretch before biking or playing tennis. I just don’t go all out the first minute of exercise. I ease my body into the motions required to perform at my best. Either I pedal around a few minutes in the flat or I walk around the court miming tennis motions.
Casey K says
Thank you for the “Becoming a Supple Leopard” book suggestion. While researching that, I came across “Ready to Run” by the same author. As a duathlete, I am using Ready to Run as my guide (the “12 Standards”) with Becoming a Supple Leopard as an excellent reference guide to provide more details on mobilizations and so on. Though Ready to Run is aimed at runners, nearly all of the information is applicable to any sport, including cycling. The concepts are applicable to an active life, that’s maybe a better way to put it. Thanks again.