Posted by: thehungryrunner | January 14, 2008

When Stretching is Dessert

It occurred to me the other day how very different I feel when I’ve finished my post-run stretching, versus how I felt just minutes before, either at the peak of my intense exercise or just after finishing.  When I’m running, I feel any number of things:  powerful, intense, motivated, psyched up, exhausted, cranky (i.e. at muscles that might cramp or those days when you just feel more slugglish), accomplished, focused…..well, you get the picture.  It all adds up to a sense of high-volume and/or intensity, longer duration, stimulation.  And while I feel that joyful sense of freedom, a happy celebration of having the ability to run like it’s recess time at school, and of course there’s a sense of “reaching” happening in the form of my strides, the nature of my movements are still very much a contraction, a squeezing, a tension (the healthy kind — and there IS a healthy kind, let’s not forget that!).

My stretching, on the other hand, leaves me feeling calm, open, contented, receptive, ready to go with the flow…..and most of all, expansive.  In other words, it provides the counterbalance so that all of that hype and adrenaline and muscle shortening of the preceding run are not suddenly spinning out of control, running amok so as to take the positive aspects of those things to such an extreme that they now cross the line into more harmful, less helpful, territory.  It puts the period at the end of my workout sentence, brings that day’s training “story” to a satisfying resolution and conclusion.   Like a good wine, it provides for a pleasant, lingering finish, something that I’ll feel even after the workout (or glass of wine) is long gone.

Clearly, both forms of activity have their rightful place and serve their unique purposes.  Which is why it’s so good to include both.  It’s not unlike a meal that includes a main dish and then dessert after.  And no, I don’t necessarily mean a mega-platter of Fettucine Alfredo followed by a skyscraper-high  square of Tiramisu!  But call me old-fashioned, I find there’s nothing more satisfying, for example, than to close out a steaming bowl of soup with a plate of sliced, crisp apples and pears.  The contrast in flavors and textures between the main course and the dessert puts me in that same “complete satiation” frame of mind that I get at the conclusion of my run-stretch workouts, proving once again that the fusion of opposites can be a healthy and wonderful thing, indeed.

So while you can certainly reap great benefits from running alone — or bicycling, or weight training, or using the eliptical, just as soup alone doesn’t provide all that your body needs or appreciates, so too can you get so much more by including a nice helping of “dessert” as well!


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