Stretching Helps, It's the Truth!
By Jeff from SLN
From the Running with Sole Blog Series
When I think back to my first days of running, I instantly think back to the foolish attitude I had toward stretching. "Stretching?" I thought aloud, "How could that help? I'm not a contortionist, I might get stuck." My coach, a saint for dealing with my adolescent complaints, continued to encourage good habits. With time and patience, learned that she was right, and cursed my stubbornness for those lost days.
Stretching is one of the most important things to keep in mind for a seasoned runner just as it is for someone who is starting out. Not everyone agrees about how extensive the benefits are, but almost everyone agrees that it is a crucial step in a running or any other workout routine. As anyone has probably heard, stretching can reduce the risk of injury, such as shin splints, IT Band syndrome, and Achilles tendonitis, any of which can put a serious strain on running. You may find it encouraging that stretching decreases soreness as well; if you’re like me, it will be the main reason you do it. It may not seem like it has a strong effect at first, but when starting to stretch on a regular basis, I found that I was typically less sore the next day (and even the day after too) and ready for another workout.
Before the Run
Before getting carried away, it's important to stretch strategically. Dynamic stretches are best suited as part of a pre-workout. These stretches could be your warm up, they activate and loosen your muscles in preparation for the workout and set you up to push harder and longer than you would otherwise. Try some of these dynamic stretches:
Leg swings. For this first stretch, if you don’t trust your balance on one foot, it will help to have a sturdy object to reach out and hold. Swing one leg forward and back 20 times; then, swing the other leg. Switch back to the first leg. Now, swing from side-to-side 20 times; then, swing the second leg. Remember to swing your leg with a full range of motion and to check that you have plenty of room.
Lunges. Start standing straight up. Take a big step forward and carefully lower yourself down. At the lowest point, the knee of your front leg should be directly over the ankle of that leg. Stand and take a step with the other leg into another lunge. Do 10 lunges per leg.
After the Run
Now that the workout is over and you’ve given it your all, it’s tempting to just sit down and call it “quits.” Don’t! Post-workout stretching is equally important. It reduces your heart rate, your risk of injury, and the soreness felt later, as mentioned previously. Here are some static stretches to use after the run:
Hamstring. From a standing position, cross one leg in front of the other and place your foot to the outside of the other. Bend over as far as you can to touch your toes and hold for at least 30 seconds. Then, stand and cross the other leg in front and repeat in that position.
Quad. If you held onto an object for balance with the “leg swings,” get an object again. Stand straight up on one leg and hold the opposite foot behind you, pulling the foot toward your buttocks. Hold for 30 seconds and switch to the other leg.
Calf. With your heel touching the ground, place the ball of your foot against a wall. Lean into the wall until you feel the stretch and hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs.
Don’t push your stretches too far. You should be pushing your limits but not in outright pain. Never bounce while stretching, it stiffens your muscles instead of relaxing them.
Feel free to add more stretches to accommodate your workout. Everyone has a different level of flexibility and a different body, so do what works. Stay loose!