Runners who contemplate whether or not to stretch are making one of the most common runner mistakes.
The task of running can put tremendous strain on the body. During a run your heart and muscles work hard, and the lungs get one of the best workouts possible. While running is so great for a person’s health, you must know that all that work really stresses the body. After long runs, I experience muscles that are very tight and sore, proving that they need some extra attention before hitting the trail again.
Stretching loosens tight muscles and allows for greater range of motion. A well-stretched and flexible runner can potentially run faster using less effort or training verses the non-stretcher who may hit several intense workouts in a week. That fact alone has inspired me to up my stretching game!
While better performance is a direct benefit of stretching, the truth that stretching can help prevent injury is probably the most important reason to start a stretching regimen. When muscles are tight and forced to power the body during a run, a perfect situation for injury is in the works. From strains all the way to stress fractures, the results of poor flexibility are no laughing matter.
In my experience, I can’t say that one particular time is best for stretching, just as long as you do it. Some stick to stretching before a workout, others enjoy a post-workout stretch. My preference is to incorporate stretching throughout the day.
A runner demands a lot of their hamstrings, quads, and calves, and thus these are the most important muscles to stretch. However, running asks quite a bit from the rest of the body, too, so don’t neglect a full-body stretch.
Tailored yoga for runners programs give these athletes exactly the stretch they need, and many gyms and studios offer flexibility classes. However, the old fashioned method of stretching on your own works too.
This simple list of stretches will cover many of the major running muscles. If I’m pinched for time, at a minimum I try to do these stretches.
1. Sitting Hamstring Stretch. Sitting on the floor with upright posture and reach for your toes. Do not strain to reach the toes though, as this can cause injury. If you can’t reach, just go as far a you comfortably can and progress slowly each day.
2. Wall Leaner Calf Stretch. Stand facing a wall with your feet apart. Place your hands on the wall with your your heels planted on the ground. Lean forward at the hips and feel the stretch.
3. Heel Hold for Quads. With one hand, balance on the wall, and with the other hand hold your ankle. Pull that heel up against the buttocks. Then, repeat on the other side.
4. Butterfly for the Groin. Sit on the floor with proper posture and your legs pulled together so the soles of the feet touch. With the knees pointing to each side, wrap your hands around your feet and stretch the legs downward towards the floor.
Read more about proper running:
By Lacy J. Hansen, a two-time Boston Marathon finisher, for DietsInReview.com