Sunday, September 4, 2011
Do Stretching and Yoga Help Runners? It's a "Stretch" to Assume They Don't
I enjoy Jeff Galloway's e-newsletters about running. I have a lot of respect for Jeff, and I know that his route to success went through Tallahassee, which leads me to feel a commonality with him.
But I have been unsettled about something Jeff wrote in his April 2011 newsletter. Even though I have not been an Olympic runner (never will be), haven't written a single running book (doubt I ever will), and couldn't run even a half marathon in the time it took him to win a full marathon (2:23:02), here's my non-Olympian, non-published, non-speedy-runner thought.
The passage that I haven't been able to shake mentally was this:
Q&A on Stretching and Cross Training
What stretches should I do?
Surprisingly, I've found that stretching causes many injuries. I don't believe that most runners or walkers benefit from stretching. So I'm going to take away the guilt for not stretching. If you have some stretches that help you and don't produce aches and pains, then do them—but be careful.
What about yoga or pilates?
I hear from many runners every year who are injured in yoga or pilates classes. I don't see any benefit for most runners in these activities. But if you do them (and are not experiencing problems), be careful.
For my response, let me start with yoga. I had never done yoga before I started in the fall of 2010, after a foot injury caused me to take a lengthy break from running (more about my fitness plan during the non-running period here). I bounced around a few types of classes until I determined that core yoga was the best for me at that time. I was doing a lot of reading about how the core drives the rest of the body and creates a strong foundation for the work that the arms and legs have to do. Improving my flexibility, I am convinced, made me less likely to be injured, not more. And one benefit of yoga as it relates to running has nothing to do with physicality and everything to do with focus. My mind can wander (isn't that true for all of us?) and learning to concentrate during a two-minute plank or a one-minute balance pose, keeping my gaze on a specific point, is a discipline that ties into my running when I try to remain on a specific cadence without the benefit of any kind of "beats per minute" audio support in my ear.
As for stretching, there is lots of stretching, it is true, that can be counterproductive (or at least not as helpful to the runner as the runner may hope). Where static stretching can be ineffective, active isolated stretching (AIS) can prevent injury and improve athletic performance when applied correctly. Kim Ortloff explains AIS well on her website here.
To be honest, it isn't Jeff's contention that yoga and stretching don't benefit runners that bothers me. It is the wide reach that he has with beginners and elite alike and my fear that beginners will decide not to learn more about effective stretching or the possibility of incorporating a yoga practice into their fitness plan just because of Jeff's opinion. I know both have been irreplaceable to me in overcoming an injury, being better equipped to fend off injury in the future, and achieving better mental focus.
Poet Antonio Porchia wrote: "I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received." I doubt Porchia was writing about running, yoga, or stretching, but it's the perfect quote to sum up my post. Jeff knows what he has given us in his writing, and I have no doubt that stance has worked great for him personally and for countless others. But I fear that what many of his readers and students have received is the closing of their minds and hearts to something that can be an important part of their fitness lives, one that prevents injury and opens their minds.
Have stretching and/or yoga been a factor in your running life? Tell me more.......