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home » be like Gumby

For those of you too young to know Gumby (star of his own stop-motion clay animation TV series), he was popular long before the day of high-tech entertainment. As a toy he was a smiley, very flexible, humanoid figure; a soft green plastic slab with wire inside. Gumby didn't do much, but you could bend him into just about any shape. I have fond memories of my Gumby, until the day I bent him back-and-forth too many times and the wire inside poked through the plastic and jabbed me. I pushed him beyond his limits of flexibility and he was no fun anymore.

Stretching is a good thing for endurance athletes, but you can overdo it.

It's normal to lose flexibility with age, but if you stretch consistently you may not lose any. Losing flexibility is one part of the aging process we can control; staying flexible is a way to 'set the clock back' and reduce the potential for injury. Short tight muscles restrict movement, sometimes to the point where opposing muscles fight each other. Tight hamstring muscles limit your run stride as you swing your leg forward, potentially making your stride short and choppy. Ever watch a hurtler and wonder how they do it? Lots of stretching.

Stretching is not the fix for injuries however; it is a tool for prevention. I see athletes with a muscle strain stretch like crazy, and in fact what they're doing is making the strain worse. Consider a rubber band with a cut in it; if you stretch it tight where will it break? A muscle with micro-tears is like this; sometimes the toughest thing to do is leave it alone. When you feel a muscle strain coming on lots of stretching is the wrong thing to do.

Diligent stretching is what you should do between workouts when you're feeling no strains. I recommend stretching lightly on run days before your workout as part of the warm up. Contrary to most, I'm not a fan of stretching after runs. Many times I've pushed too hard after a run and actually made micro-tears (from stretching too hard), that I felt beginning the next workout.

So do stretch, as longer muscles and tendons tend not to tear as easily, but if you feel a strain happening stretching is not the remedy. Cut the workout short, and if you're feeling it after ice the area. Stretching is what you should do when everything is going smoothly to help prevent injury.

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