A bit of stretching can go along way toward helping you continue running, hiking and climbing for a lot longer.
Lets face it, your body works better when it is not locked in an enforced rigour mortis from lots of training and no stretching.
As far as I can tell, two things are at play here.
Muscles have a tendency to protect themselves by contracting. so a bit of hard training and your muscles will contract. Also, hard training probably means micro-tears in the muscles which fix themselves by laying scar tissue down, often against the grain of the muscle, helping prevent further tearing and, oh yes you guessed it, shortening the muscle stretch.
When I got to college a million years ago, I had been running for 5 years. If I could touch my knees I was pretty damn happy. While this protected the hell out of my joints, I started stretching regularly and all of a sudden I was more fluid and faster.
In climbing this means you can make those high steps, dynamic moves and stems more easily and with less effort. I have also found that it helps in offwidths and if you ever have to do a rose move.
While I don’t expect all of my increased speed was from stretching, running does require a fluid body which is much much easier to get when you can move. When I started running trails, not only the stretching but also the contact improvisation helped immensely. Get good at contact improv and you will have a much better knowledge of your center of gravity. When you are tearing down a rocky trail, that is very valuable.
When packing and hiking you will be more attuned to uneven territory, negotiating low branches and balancing with a pack. It also helps on those leaps over streams which keeps you drier.
So how to get started?
Take yoga class, Pilates, stretching class or talk to a trainer at whatever gym you may belong to. While you may feel awkward at first, don’t worry about it. Old stiff people are like kittens, everyone loves them – that is why they stare.
If public humiliation is not for you (my first class was when I realized that being that stiff was not normal), Netflix, Hulu, You Tube or some of the other web bases media sites will stream yoga classes or stretching classes.
My advice is that you will get more out of a class. A good teacher can adjust exercises to you, making sure you don’t get tweaked and that you get the most out of the time you are spending. Just think, if you are crazy stiff, you will advance faster than anyone else in the class. Those limber people have no where to go.
Just remember, if it hurts, back off. This is not a race. There can be that muscle stretch pain that is fine, but sharp pain is not. Know the difference. If you don’t, take it slower to be sure. Getting hurt in stretch class is no way to go.