Sometimes it’s hard enough to find time to fit a good run in, but you need to make sure you also include time for stretching, both before and after your run.
A regular stretching regime is one of the most important things you can do for your body as a runner. Stretching not only prevents injury, but it reduces the soreness after a run and can even make you a better runner.
The key is to remember there is a proper method to stretching. If not done carefully, it can lead to exactly what you’re trying to avoid: injury. The most common mistake made when stretching is bouncing. Muscles need to be coaxed into a stretch and bouncing can actually rip the muscle. The proper way to stretch is to apply the movement gradually, slowly allowing the muscle to accommodate the stretch and holding for 30 seconds.
The following stretches are crucial to warming up your body and preparing for a run:
- Wall Stretch - Stand approximately three feet from a wall with your feet shoulder width apart, facing the wall. Bend at the waist to about 90 degrees and move one foot forward with a bent knee, gently placing your hands on the wall for support. Lift the toes of your front foot and stretch the muscles underneath the calf. Hold and then change legs.
- Hamstring Stretch - Lie down, flat on your back and raise one leg straight into the air. Bend your other leg with your foot flat on the ground. Place a towel over the arch of your lifted foot and pull down on both sides while pressing upward with your raised foot. Push until your muscles contract and release. Repeat on other side.
- Quad Stretch (aka Heel to Butt stretch) - Stand on one foot and lean on a wall with one hand. Raise your other heel and hold your ankle with your opposite hand. Lift your heel as far as you comfortably can and stretch your quadricep. Stand straight and tall through the entire stretch. Repeat on other side.
- Groin Stretch (aka Butterfly Stretch) - Lower yourself gently on the floor into a seated position and align the soles of our feet together. Place your elbows on your knees and slowly lean forward while pressing your knees to the ground. Do not bounce. Hold for 30 seconds.
You will notice a difference once you incorporate these four basic stretches into your running program. We encourage you to take additional time to stretch and add other moves to warm up and loosen all of your muscles. They’re also great to do after your run. Just remember not to lower your head below your heart until your heart rate has returned to normal. Your body will thank you for it tomorrow!
Images courtesy of http://www.strongshape.com/images/wall-calf-stretch.jpg, http://www.aaronchiro.com/doctor/chiropractor/chiropractic-Fort-Wayne/the-treatment-plan/10-exercises, http://www.livestrong.com/article/490568-heel-to-butt-stretch/ and Photo Credit Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images respectively.