STRETCHING & INJURY PREVENTION
Ask any runner what they love about running and chances are they’re going to tell you how satisfying it feels just to be able to run – to feel like a free spirit, moving and cherishing what nature blessed them with.
With that said, nothing’s more frustrating than hitting the brakes on your running programme because you’re suffering from a sprain or nagging injury. The mental anguish that comes with not being able to experience the sheer joy of running is no joke either.
The key to keeping your muscles, joints and tendons healthy in order to continue running efficiently (especially with age) – is stretching.
Why is stretching so important for runners?
The majority of runners, no matter what they age, experience annoying injuries at some point. While some may be attributed to poor running form, too much stress or lack of rest, or perhaps, not using the right footwear – many a times, it can attributed directly to not warming up properly and not ‘opening up’ and priming the body for running.
If you’ve never done any kind of pre or post-run stretching, then you should bookmark this article because it can save you from those days when you just want to run and experience that wonderful feeling – but can’t due to an injury.
It’s also important to understand why runners even need to stretch to begin with;
Muscles and tendons in the human body have a habit of shortening and getting stiff from time to time. This is especially true for people who spend all day at a desk checking paperwork or working on a computer. It’s also true for people who enjoy running regularly but don’t give enough attention to stretch, lengthen and relax their muscles.
Stretching is actually the ‘secret sauce’ that many amateur or professional runners and even recreational ones rely on to keep themselves healthy and going over the years.
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What’s the best way to stretch before and after running?
Before we share a basic routine, we should discuss the importance of two kinds of stretching that runners of all levels should engage in: static and dynamic.
Static stretching is when you simply hold a stretch at a fixed position, and hold it there for as long as possible. You’re only going to stretch the muscle as far as your body allows you and hold it there for a while at least – hence, it’s called static.
Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, is when you’ll gradually increase the ‘range of motion’ of your stretch, and when it feels that you can’t stretch anymore, you’re going to stretch less, wait, and then attempt to stretch the muscle again but increase the total range a little bit more with every attempt.
You may have seen martial artists and gymnasts do a lot of dynamic stretching, especially before a practice sessions, as it’s a good way to test flexibility, ready the body up for the training ahead and also lengthen the fibres in your muscles while making the tendons feel more nimble.
If this sounds like too much information at first, relax. Stretching properly is one of the easiest things you can do as a runner, as long as you do it safely and consistently.
Static and dynamic stretching (before and after running)
Let’s familiarise ourselves with the muscles directly involved in running:
- The thighs (quads) and leg biceps (hamstrings)
- The glutes (muscles in and around your buttocks)
- The lower back
- The calves and shins
- Stabilisation muscles in the torso (the abdominal wall or rectus abdominis)
Muscles indirectly involved in running:
- Upper back and shoulders
- Obliques and intercoastals (waistline muscles)
- The neck (to some degree)
With the above in mind, it’s critical to remember that flexibility in your glutes, lower back and leg muscles can almost guarantee injury-free sessions, as long as other factors are constant (diet, lifestyle, rest, and so on).
Let’s start with the lower back
Standing upright and maintaining a neutral arch in your lower back, gently bend down while keeping your legs straight and arms outstretched – and try to touch your toes.
Do this statically at first to check your range of motion and limits, hold it there for a few seconds, and come back up. Repeat 2-3 times and follow this repetitive cycle for the other stretches as well.
Now, bend over again and try to touch your toes, but this time, do it dynamically: try to move back and forth as if attempting to loosen the muscles in your lower back and hamstrings, hold it there, then go down as much as you can.
Come back up.
Repeat and try to go down further as you attempt to increase your range of motion in the ‘finish’ position.
Thighs and hamstrings
Lying flat on the ground in a sitting position, stretch out and lock both knees and attempt to touch your feet.
It’s okay if your back gets a little rounded. Now do this with one leg at a time, with the other leg forming a V shape against the opposing straightened leg.
For your thighs, you can get down into a yoga position with your shins neatly tucked underneath your buttocks, and slowly bend backwards until you start to feel a stretch in the top of your thighs. As with the other muscle groups, do this both statically and dynamically.
For the torso, calves and shins:
Side twists and side bends work great for warming up the torso as do thigh and hamstring stretches, as they stretch out the lower back as well as the abdominal wall.
For your calves, you want to sit down and pull your toes in toward you until you feel a gentle stretch. For the shins, you want to do the opposite: push the toes down and as far away as you can from your knees.
Kick back one of your legs in a starting position and squat down with the other leg. Try to go below parallel and pause for a moment. You’ll feel the stretch in your hip flexors (the muscles coming up and over your pelvis).
Repeat for the other leg. Now get down on the ground in a seated position and cross one leg over the other. So, if you’re crossing the right leg over the left, the left one needs to be straight while the right one is bent. Now twist in the opposite direction (so, away from the straightened leg). You should feel a stretch in your glute and lower back.
There – how does that feel? Now you’re all warmed up and ready to go!
Repeat the same drill after your run but wait to catch your breath for a few minutes. Then proceed with the post-run stretching, although try not to overdo it with the range of motion, as your muscles will be a little fatigued.
As with other running sensibilities, always ensure that you’re warmly dressed, adequately rested and properly hydrated as we don’t want the stretching to be counter-productive!
And remember, if you need any advice regarding running shoes, gait analysis or any other equipment the Weybridge Sports Team are on hand to help in any way we can.