Exercises such as running are highly beneficial in a lot of ways, but they can also cause your muscles to shorten as they fortify and strengthen. This can result in a lack of mobility, while increasing your chance for injuries such as strains, pulls, and even tendonitis.
Stretching before and after your run keeps your muscles more flexible, giving your muscles and joints a broader range of motion. The likelihood of an injury is decreased from this as well.
The vast majority of doctors will always suggest that you actually warm up a bit before doing your stretching, as doing a “cold stretch” can actually damage your muscle and tendons. A five or ten minute walk beforehand is a good way to get the body warmed up and ready for both stretching and running.
First, it’s helpful to know the types of stretches and when they are appropriate.
This type of stretching involves movements to achieve the stretch. Walking lunges are a prime example of this kind of dynamic stretching. The stretching is achieved through fluid movement, as opposed to holding a stretch out for an extended period of time.
Dynamic stretching can increase your blood flow and range of motion, increase your awareness of your joint position awareness, and improve your overall athletic performance. If you watch professional athletes warming up before games, you are likely to see dynamic stretching occurring.
Static stretching is utilized to stretch muscles while the body is resting. It is composed of various stretches that gradually lengthen a muscle to an elongated position after physical activity, often to the point of slight discomfort.
This type of stretching can be effective in bringing the heart rate down, decreasing muscle soreness, and cutting down on injuries.
A simple and familiar example of this type of stretching would be the action of touching your toes and holding the position for around 30 seconds without moving.
Stretches for Prior to Your Run
These dynamic stretches can be used to loosen up and prepare your leg muscles for what’s ahead.
Leg swings: Grab onto something sturdy, and then stand on one leg while swinging the other leg back and forth. Repeat this 15-20 times. Then, swing the same leg side to side for 15-20 times. Allow each swing to build until your leg begins to near its full motion range.
Walking lunges: Begin by taking a big step forward with one leg, and then bend the knee until your thigh is as parallel as possible to the floor with your knee aligned with your ankle. Push back upward, and bring your left foot even with your right foot. Step forward with the left, all while keeping the movement as fluid as you can. Repeat 10 times for each leg.
Stretches for After the Run
Now that your run is over, it’s time to cool down and stretch your muscles one last time.
Standing Quad: Stand up with your legs together. Bend your left leg while bringing your heel toward your rear end, and then grab your left foot using your left hand. Press your shoe into your hand to ensure that your leg does the stretching rather than pulling with your hand.
Standing Calf: Stand facing a wall and place your hands on the wall at chest level. Place the ball of your right foot up against the wall with your heel touching the floor. Carefully lean into the wall until you feel your calf stretching. Be sure to keep your leg straight.
Kneeling Hip Flexor and Hamstring: While kneeling, place your right foot on the floor in front of you, bending your leg at a 90 degree angle.
While keeping your back straight, press forward to your right hip, and keep your left knee pressed into the ground. This stretches out your left hip and also your right hamstring. You can effectively increase the stretch to the left hip flexors by squeezing and contracting the glute muscles of your left hip.
That’s it! Follow these instructions carefully before and after your runs to get the most out of them, while also protecting yourself from painful injuries down the road.