Most of us don’t spend enough time stretching. There are certain muscle groups which typically get tight in runners and also groups which are bad for each of us individually. Don’t just make the mistake of stretching after your run – in order to prevent injury and get the most out of your training, stretching for runners should become part of a daily routine.
Stretching for Runners – Why?
Stretching has a number of benefits. First is flexibility which is important, but should also be coupled with stability (which is where strengthening comes in). Flexibility for running doesn’t have to mean getting your legs behind your head or doing the splits but should enable you to maintain good form and running posture as you run! This will help prevent overuse injuries which often occur when one muscle group is tight and limits joint range of motion, meaning additional work is required from another group.
Stretching is also recommended to help ease muscle soreness after running. So if you find that you have tight calf muscles for example the day after your run, you could do with stretching them more before and after your run.
Finally, stretching can help prepare you for your run and should be included in your warm up as well as the cool down. Stretching takes the muscle group through their full range of motion in a safe and controlled manner before doing this when running which is often less controlled! This can help prevent injuries such as calf and hamstring strains.
There are several types of stretching which can be performed in order to increase muscle flexibility, prevent soreness and injuries and warm-up for exercise. Here I’m going to talk about the stretching you could do after and in between exercise, rather than as a warm up as that’s covered elsewhere and as you’ll read there, is a little controversial.
The easiest method of stretching for yourself is static stretching. This is where you take a muscle to the point of stretch and hold it there for a set time. In most cases this will be around 20-30 seconds per stretch. The benefit of this is that it is easy to do on your own with no need for a partner to help. It has also even shown to be effective in increasing muscle flexibility if performed regularly. And that’s really the key. Static stretching needs to be performed on a regular basis to notice an increase in muscle length. Minimum twice a day and three or even four times if you can. If you don’t have an injury at the moment or a specific area you are targeting then twice is usually sufficient. I did read something a while back that was saying that stretching in the morning is ideal as it sets the spindle length for the day – but how much truth there is in that I’m not sure. Still – I think the morning is a great time to stretch as it does tend to loosen everything off and get you ready for the day.
Generally, a good muscle stretching for runners program should include all muscle groups of the legs, with some emphasis on the hip flexors, hip rotators and calf muscles. If you have a certain injury or you know you are tight in one area then work a little longer or more often on this group.
My recommendation is to hold each stretch for around 30 seconds, then perform the same stretch on the other leg, before repeating on each leg another time. So 2 x30 second stretches per muscle group, per leg! I tend to start at the top and work down so as to not forget or miss any! For example – hip flexors; glutes; hamstrings; quads; groin; calf and shin.
I will get around to adding some images of my favourite running stretches as some point – please bear with me!