Anyway, this post really is about stretching. Why do we do it? Does it do any good?
When I ran the Woods and Lakes Run a couple of weeks ago, many of the runners before the race were doing their usual contortions: hanging by their fingernails off the lamp posts, nibbling their toes, trying to pull their ankles past their ears. They seemed to believe that stretching before running is a way to avoid injury during the run, in spite of the fact that there is absolutely no scientific evidence that stretching before exercise has any impact whatsoever on the chances of injury. Only a very few randomized, controlled trials have been done to test the assumption that stretching reduces the risk of injury, and not a single one of those trials could measure a protective effect from stretching. See this article for example.
So should sailors stretch? Here is a post from the Laser Forum where a professional fitness instructor provides some advice on how sailors should stretch before and after a regatta. The reason? To avoid pulled or strained muscles she says. Hmmm. Guess she hasn't read the scientific research.
In another post by the same author she advises on some stretches to increase strength and flexibility in the lower back. Aaah - the F word. Flexibility. That's the real reason we need to stretch.
Frequent poster at the Laser forum, the alphabetically challenged 49208, has the following suggestion in this thread on how to stretch properly.
I took a few yoga classes so I could get a better handle on proper stretching techniques - one think I learned in those was the length of time holding the stretch. I was typically holding up to 30 seconds prior to yoga - in those classes we were holding the stretch 1 to 2 minutes and once I was tuned into what was happening, I could feel the stretched muscles start to relax somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds and the distance I was stretching would increase an inch or more. Lesson learned - hold it until the muscle fatigues/relaxes and then start counting for at least another 30 seconds.And if you really want to get serious about getting fit for sailing then you could adopt the training program described in this article from the Times of London.
Ben Ainslie, who won gold in Sydney and Athens, wakes at 7 in the morning and does 90 minutes of stretching before heading to the water for an hour of boat work and four hours of punishing water-based training before finishing off with an hour of weights. Romantic it ain't.Ninety minutes of stretching a day!! Well, I guess if you want to win a sailing gold medal that's what you need to do. But if you don't have the time in your busy schedule to stretch before you go sailing then you can always stretch while you're on the boat as Litoralis showed us a few months ago. And if you think that you're already flexible enough then check out the girl in the video. Can you do that?
So it is true that those of us who race real sailing boats that demand agility from their crews need to do some stretching for flexibility so that we can perform all the contortions we need to do to make the beast go fast. Of course I'm not talking about you, yes you there in the blue blazer and peaked cap, sitting on your floating lead mine, sipping cocktails on the deck with Bunty and Muffy, and occasionally pausing to press a button to trim the kite, maybe you can get away with being a stiff old salt.
But forget about all the scientific mumbo jumbo on this topic; for most of us the real reason for doing the occasional stretch is that it feels so damn good. Especially if our muscles are aching after some unaccustomed exercise. I'm still a bit sore after yesterday's run so I'm off to do some stretching.
If we need to gybe, press the green button.