Sunday, May 24, 2009

The banner headline on a press release read “Stop Stretching.” That should make the anti-stretching crowd happy.

The release continued: “Expert reveals why stretching hurts your Muscles and how to do it the right way,” concluding, “The only problem is that it’s hurting us, and we really need to stop.”

This is according to so-called mind and body fitness expert Anat Baniel, who is promoting her new book “Move into Life: The Nine Essentials for Lifelong Vitality,” who believes that stretching is an activity that is contrary to the health and longevity of our muscles.

“Muscles aren’t meant to be stretched like that,” she said in the release. “Muscles are meant to contract and relax. Stretching them puts stress on them, and rips muscle fibers, forcing them to constantly repair themselves after each time you stretch. Your body’s movement shouldn’t cause repeated damage. It should be more harmonious, and flow naturally.”

As controversial as the milk and butter/margarine debates - for a few years, the research says it is good for us, then for years the research says it is bad for us - the stretching debate continues.

Stretching has helped keep me from being sidelined frequently from injuries. Sprinting on the track does cause micro-tears in the muscle fibers, but it would cause a lot more damage if stretching were not a daily ritual.

Professional track athletes always stretch before competitions, and world-class runners don’t ever miss stretching regimens prior to a rigorous track session.

The key to stretching is never to do it cold. Before a track session, I will jog 12 to 18 minutes before stretching, the shorter warmup in very warm conditions and the longer warmup in cooler temperatures as it takes longer to warm up the muscles.

No stretching is ever forced. Yes, people beat me up all the time over the fact that most of my stretching exercises are fairly static, but I start the stretch easily and steadily put more pressure on that particular muscle or muscle set. No jerking motions, so no danger here.

I may not have a book at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list like Baniel does, but personal evidence is there. For the amount of stress I put my body through as a masters middle-distance runner and for the fact that I have extremely tight no-twitch muscles to begin with, the fact I don’t get injured much means I must be doing something right. Credit the stretching for preparing my muscles appropriately for the workload.

Local woman picked - Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist and prominent business executive, has been hired as USA Track & Field’s chief of sport performance. She will begin work with the organization July 1.

In 1979, while competing in Atlanta as a high school student at Gar-Field High in Dale City, Va., Mosley set the national high school record in the 100-yard dash with a time of 10.60 seconds. She went on to star at the University of Tennessee.

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