Stretching is an important part of any running routine. But just because runners should stretch doesn't mean it's a common practice, and knowing which stretches to perform and executing them correctly is critical.
This article will cover why stretching is an important part of your running workout, and the most recent guidance as it relates to performing dynamic movements opposed to static stretches. We'll also provide you with a pre-run stretching routine.
Importance of Stretching Before Running
Simply put, your muscles need to prepare for activity. Muscles will shorten (contract) when you're sitting, but when you begin running they will length and stretch. You will risk getting injured if you make the shift from sitting to running too quickly.
When a muscle is stretched prior to activity it'll be able to resist the stress better than if it hadn't been stretched. But, that's only true if you stretched it correctly.
There are 2 main reasons you should stretch prior to running (or any workout for that matter):
- Injury prevention
- Improve the quality of your workout
But there isn't a one-size-fits-all form of stretching. In fact, the term stretching is rather generic and includes several different types of exercises. Most people think of stretching as the static motion of bending of touching your toes type of motion. But in reality, stretching can be any type of dynamic movement.
What is Dynamic Stretching?
There are two main types of stretching: Static stretches and dynamic stretching.
- Static - Static stretches is when you stand, sit, or lie down and you hold a single stretch for a set period of time.
- Dynamic - Dynamic stretches are movements that prepare your ligaments, soft tissues, and muscles for performance.
You may remember doing static stretches in gym class, and although they have their place, they do not have the desired effect when done before running or activity. One of the primary reasons runners should stretch prior to running is to prevent injuries, however, doing static stretches may negatively impact your workout.
Dynamic stretching will allow you to gradually increase your motion, muscle length, and circulation since you'll be performing gentle repetitive motions. By selecting stretches that replicate running, you'll be giving your muscles a chance to gently stretch and increase blood flow.
Although, it's important to note that you'll want to stretch both sides of your body. This will allow you to maintain symmetry. Symmetry in both movement and strength is a key factor in avoiding acute injuries and overuse.
When both sides of your body move in the same way you'll be able to achieve an even and consistent movement pattern, which is critical to your running gait.
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Pre-Run Warm-up Stretches
The goal with the pre-run warm-up stretches is to allow your muscles to be stretched in a slow and controlled manner. To do this you'll want to use dynamic movements that replicate the motions your body will use during the workout.
The following stretches are excellent examples of pre-run stretches and they can be done after performing a gentle jog of 5 or 10 minutes, or simply before starting your run.
This stretch creates a dynamic stretch on the hamstring group.
- Step forward and keep your heal firmly on the ground
- Keep the front leg straight and bend the back leg
- Sink your bottom down as though you are going to sit into a chair
- Sweep your hands and arms towards the ground and swing them into the air
- Each movement should take between 2 to 3 seconds on alternating legs at a slow walking pace
Leg Swings (Sideways)
- Keep your core engaged and make sure your body is straight
- Swing one leg across the body and then back again
- The movement should be in control
- Take about one swing per second with no forced effort
- Don't rotate your pelvis, only your leg should be moving
Leg Swings (Front to Back)
This stretch will warm up your hamstrings and hip flexors.
- This is the same as the sideways leg swings, except the movement is from front to back
- Be careful not to lean forwards or backwards, or push it too far
Calf raises are an especially important dynamic stretch if you suffer from achilles pain, plantar fasciitis, or shin issues.
- Put your foot on the ground with the toe and the ball of your foot first (tip toes)
- Then lower your weight through your foot until your heal hits the ground
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Should You Stretch After Running?
Absolutely, muscles load with lactic acid after vigorous exercise. When you stretch you'll help the blood flow move the lactic acid from your muscles, which will help with your recovery. Plus, stretching after your running workout will help prevent stiffness and pain by relaxing muscles that may have become tight from exertion.
In addition, stretching gives your heart rate a chance to gradually return to normal.