Are your shoulders tight? Try this right now:
- Sit or stand with your arms down and relaxed.
- Inhale and bring your shoulders straight back, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold your breath. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds, activating all the muscles in your upper back and shoulders.
- Exhale completely, letting the shoulders relax and drop.
- Repeat 1-3.
Now, roll your shoulders around – are your shoulders looser and more relaxed?
Stretching is fantastic for preventing muscular injury, but stretching alone is usually temporary. It’d be tough to keep up with the hours of repetitive muscle movement (and/or sitting at a desk) we do, with a few minutes of stretching.
(Here’s a great exercise for balancing the tight chest and shoulders we get from riding:)
Tightening a muscle, or making it strong, also enables it to relax more. A relaxed muscle can also get stronger.This principle is used in training by many elite athletes — including Dara Torres with her Olympic medals at age 40 — and even in relaxation techniques for anxiety patients.
Tightening a muscle also allows the opposing muscle to relax more – this is called “reciprocal inhibition.” Next time you do a hamstring stretch, try briefly tightening your quad, and then relaxing both muscles for a deeper stretch.
This is also where strength training comes in. (–Not heavy lifting with single muscles; we only want to do what makes us look lean and toned, and what’s useful for triathlon. This means “functional” strength work, or reinforcing the prime movers – core, shoulders and hips – in ways that apply directly to swim/bike/run.)
Counter-intuitively, including functional strength work in your training actually helps your muscles stay looser and more efficient, not tighter!