To stretch or not to stretch

To stretch or not to stretch? I used to avoid stretching because I thought it was "too hard" and I was "not flexible."
To stretch or not to stretch? I used to avoid stretching because I thought it was “too hard” and I was “not flexible.” Fashion by Think Allways. Styling by Mariel Heather. Photography by Quinn Reynolds.

Today’s Tortoise and Hare topic: To stretch or not to stretch.

tortoise_and_hare_logoBack in the day, before I discovered my love of all things yoga, I used to think that stretching was for bendy people. As I was not a bendy person, that meant stretching was not for me.

Of course, I knew all the experts pointed to the importance of stretching. I knew of course that running made me tight, and stretching was a way to offset it – to prevent injury, to make me even faster of a runner, etc.

I knew it all, but when I went to a yoga class it just felt too difficult – I couldn’t even touch my toes. Why bother? As far as just doing some simple stretches after a run: sure, occasionally, when on a group run or something, I’d do what the group did after, maybe grab one ankle behind me and pull my foot into my glute, etc.

But it didn’t really feel like it was doing much and truthfully, most of my running friends seemed a little lost when it came to stretches as well. We’d stand in a circle before a run, shrug our shoulders at each other, and follow everyone else’s lead … maybe bend over once or twice with legs spread, stretching the hamstrings, before heading out to the trail.

Now I know better. Now I know that stretching before a run is NOT the best thing to do — warming up, or dynamic stretching (jumping jacks, mountain climbers, et. al), is good, but static stretching actually increases the risk of injury. And I now also know that static stretching after a run is absolutely necessary for counteracting all the tightness I just caused by running. I’ll still admit, though, even armed with all this knowledge, old habits die hard. If I’m just ending with a run at my house, it’s very easy for me to just walk in the door, grab a sip of water, and pretend I’ve done all I should for the day.

Stretching with a group

The truth is, the best workouts for me are when I begin and end my run at the yoga studio, and I get there just in time for class to begin (well, plus a cool down water break). Once I discovered yoga, I realized that the experts were right: I am faster now. I also (knock on wood) have not had any running injuries in about 3 years. I used to get running injuries ALL THE TIME. The only thing in my life that has changed is the addition of regular hot yoga.

The other thing I learned is that with time — it gets easier! Now, I still would not describe myself as “bendy”. I may never be able to describe myself that way. But the difference in my abilities between now and 4 years ago is amazing. Yoga is a slow build. It takes weeks, months, sometimes years to see progress. But it is definitely there.

As far as my favorite hot yoga class after a run? Well, I honestly like them all. I think they all offer benefits and I don’t plan my runs around a specific class ever. But if I had to pick my favorite for post-run, I’d pick Black Opal. The me of 4 years ago is having my mind blown at that statement because when I first started Arrichion, I thought Black Opal was the hardest class. And now it’s the one I find the most benefit from (the new Diamond being a close second).

For those who don’t speak Arrichion, Black Opal is a flow class that includes a lot of twists and hip and shoulder openers. We do poses such as runner’s lunge, pigeon, chair with twists, reclining hero, etc. I found it so difficult in the beginning. I find it so necessary now. The new Diamond is a deep stretch that involves getting into a pose and holding it for a few minutes at a time. You never know how long a few minutes can be until you’re breathing into a difficult pose. It’s amazing and I feel so great after I’m finished taking either of these classes.

My preference is hot yoga. It’s not for everyone. But I find it a reward after a good run – almost like a sit in a sauna would be. The stretching has also become a reward for me. It goes so well with the running; I shaved 5 minutes off of my PR when I ran Charlotte Marathon in 2014. I credit two things to that: the introduction of hot yoga into my life, and running with a running partner that is faster than me (Quinn). Most runners get slower as they age, but not me — and that’s only because I’m finally starting to listen to what I had been told all along.

Ok runners, listen up: if you haven’t tried Arrichion (or another yoga spot), it’s time to start. This is an open invitation to join me for a yoga class anytime. The new student special is $20 for 20 days, but if you buy it online, it’s only $18.

And enough listening to me today: it’s time to listen to the true expert in stretching, Quinn. Check out her blog about the same topic here. She’s the one that really helped me find my love of yoga, and she’s also the one who made me realize I could run faster than I ever thought I could.

>Also, want to run Charlotte Marathon with us? Quinn is running the half, and I’ll probably torture myself with the full again (marathon #4!). If you want to run it, sign up here and use the code quinnrey.

Special thanks to Mariel for the photography and styling for this post. My shirt says “grateful every damn day”. The pants I’m wearing were so breathable, I was shocked when I went for a run and a hot yoga class and wasn’t dying (I’ll talk more about that in a few posts!) Both items are from Think Allways, a local brand. Bonus!