For those of you who have begun our Running for Beginners program you may be wondering if stretching should be part of the routine – and, if it should be, whether it is best to do before, after or both? And what types of stretches are best? According to The National Strength and Conditioning Association, the number one reason why people don’t stretch is because they don’t want to spend the time. Usually, stretching is overlooked until muscles are sore, tight and can no longer be ignored. The reality, though, is that whether you’re new to running or a veteran at pounding the pavement—the benefits of stretching are multifaceted. The two biggest benefits (that totally justify the extra time!) are injury prevention and increased performance. Just think: the extra 10-20 minutes now will save you days of rest (or injury) later on.
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Before You Run: Do Dynamic Stretches
Stretching muscles that aren’t warm can be a solitary cause of injury, so start out with a 3-5 minute warm up (like a jog) to get the blood flowing to your muscles. Once warm, do dynamic stretches (stretches that mimic the movements to be performed during exercise, where the end position is not held) prior to setting out on your run. As these are active stretches, not only will your heart rate be elevated, your muscles will also be warm and ready to “fire” properly on your run.
Try doing 20 repetitions of each of the following, repeat the series 2-3 times.
Walking lunges: take a big step forward into a lunge, to the point where you can feel the muscles stretch. Then stand up and switch legs.
Butt Kickers: exactly what it sounds like! You can stand in place or travel forward as you try to kick yourself in the butt.
High Knees: like butt kickers, you can stand in place or travel forward. As you do, raise one knee as high as you can until you feel the stretch, then switch legs.
Calf Step Backs: standing in place, tap one foot back behind you making sure your heel touches the ground so you feel the calf stretch, then switch feet.
Hamstring Walks: traveling forward, kick one leg straight out in front of you as high as you can, place it down in front of you and switch sides.
You’ll notice with each set your range of motion will increase, even if it’s just slightly. For added benefits, don’t forget about your arms! Pumping your arms during these dynamic stretches will get them ready to pump during your run!
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After You Run: Do Static Stretches
Static stretches are stretches that don’t involve movement. You assume the stretching position and hold it for 20-30 seconds. Do not bounce at the end position and do not stretch to the point of excessive pain. You should feel these stretches in the muscle, not the joint. Below are stretches for the major muscle groups used in the lower body while running. We recommend 2-3 sets and holding each stretch for approximately 20 seconds.
Hip flexor stretch: Kneel on one knee with the other leg bent at a 90 degree angle in front. Press forward through the kneeling leg so you feel the stretch in your hip flexors. You can increase the stretch by raising the arm on the same side as the kneeling leg and reaching for the sky. Switch legs and repeat.
Quad stretch: grab your leg from the ankle (not the foot which is a very common mistake) and pull it behind you only so far so that the knee points to the ground. You will feel the stretch down the front of your thigh. If you have trouble with balance go ahead and hold onto something with the opposite arm.
Hamstring/Glute Stretch: with feet spread a little wider than hip width bend straight down and reach for the ground. If you can touch the ground, try either reaching your hands through your legs or grabbing your elbows and pulling down for a deeper stretch. Follow by twisting your torso and walking your hands towards one leg and holding for 20 seconds before switching to the other side.
Calf Stretch: Find a wall, bench or some other surface to press the ball of your foot into and lean forward until you feel the stretch in your calf.