The Proper Way to Stretch
Runners are notorious for not stretching properly or not stretching at all. This is unfortunate because stretching can be very beneficial for runners. Running without stretching will eventually cause the muscles to shorten and tighten. Stretching is important for maintaining flexibility and most importantly for injury prevention. It not only helps them to improve their flexibility but can also help to prevent injuries and can result in the muscles feeling less fatigued during a run, making your times faster.
BEFORE YOU START TO STRETCH!!!
Many runners think stretching before their exercise is considered a warm-up. However it is most important that you warm up the muscles before you stretch them. I see this mistake time and time again and it is becoming a often neglected aspect of an exercise routine. By performing warm-up exercises before stretching your body temperature will warm up increasing blood flow to your muscles making them more flexible. Warmer muscles are far more elastic and make the body more supple. If you stretch cold muscles you can actually injure yourself. A warm-up should always be preformed first before stretching, cardiovascular training or resistance training.
1. Standing Calf stretch
Start out with the standing calf stretch or other known as the gastrocnemius stretch. This stretch will loosen up the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles reducing your risk or of a calf strain or Achilles tendonitis.
- Stand about an arm’s-length from the wall about 2-3 feet
- Lean forward and place both hands on the wall shoulder width apart.
- Extend one foot (the side to be stretched) behind you with heel on the ground and one foot closer to the wall.
- Lean into wall with your hips until you feel a stretch in the calf of the extended leg.
- Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds
- For a deeper stretch, move your foot farther back.
2. Standing Quadriceps stretch
The quadriceps is a large muscle group that includes four prevailing muscles on the front of the thigh. The four prevailing muscles consist of the rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis, and the vastus medialis. This muscle group is responsible for extending the leg while straightening the knee. Also, because part of it spans the front of the hip joint, it assists other muscles around the hip maintaining an erect posture. The quadriceps are vital for simply standing or for rising to stand as well as for walking and running. Running and cycling as well as daily activities, can result in tight quadriceps muscles so it is important to stretch them.
- Stand on one leg (grab onto something if you need support).
- Bend your knee and bring your heel toward your buttock.
- Reach for your ankle or foot with your hand.
- Stand up straight and feel a slight pull along the front of your thigh and hip.
- Keep the knees close together. The motion shouldn’t come from pulling the foot, it comes from extending the hips forward. Keep your knees vertical to the ground.
- Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds, release and repeat with other leg
3. Standing Hamstring Stretch/ Toe Touch
The hamstring refers to any of the posterior thigh muscles which include the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and the semimebranosus, or the tendons that make up the borders of space behind the knee. The standing toe touch is a common hamstring stretch that can be beneficial for stretching the calf muscle as well.
- Stand with your legs together
- Bend over with your rear knee straight
- Reach toward your toes or bring your torso towards your legs
- Hold stretch for 15 to 30 seconds
- To stretch each hamstring individually, you can modify this stretch by crossing one leg over the other and then reach for your toes
4. Standing IT band Stretch
The iliotibial band is a superficial thickening of tissue on the outside of the thigh, extending from the outside of the pelvis, over the hip and knee, and inserting just below the knee. Itbs otherwise known as Iliotibial band syndrome is one of the most common injuries for runners. The band is crucial to stabilizing the knee during running. The continual rubbing of the band over the lateral femoral epicondyle, combined with the repeated flexion and extension of the knee during running may cause the area to become inflamed causing an athlete excruciating pain.
- Stand in a doorway with your left leg crossed infront of your right leg.
- With your right arm extending overhead, reach for the left side of the door frame
- Put your left hand on your hip
- Push slightly on your left hip to move your hips to the right. At this point you should feel a slight stretch along the right side of your torso.
- Hold stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and change sides.
5. Hip Flexor
The hip flexors are a group of muscles that bring the legs and trunk together in a flexion movement. These muscles include the psoas major, illiacus, rectus femoris, pectineus and the satorius.
- Begin in a forward lunge position and place your hands on your knees.
- Press down with your hands and extend the hips forward until you feel a stretch from the front of your hip, groin and thigh.
- Hold the stretch for about 20-30 seconds, release and repeat on the other leg.
This stretch is great to prevent a groin strain. Groin strains occur when the muscles of the inner thighs are stretched beyond their normal length causing tears within the muscle that cause pain and inflammation. A light gentle stretch of the adductor muscles of the thigh can help prevent groin strains.
- Sit with your knees bent and feet together in a criss-cross method
- Gently press the tops of the knees down toward the floor with your elbows.
- Stop!!! when a slight stretch is felt.
- Hold for ten seconds and repeat
7. Simple Shoulder Stretch
There is several different types of stretches to stretch the shoulder, this is the easiest and most common.
- Begin standing up straight with shoulders relaxed and back.
- Reach your right arm up over your head, bend your elbow and reach your hand behind your neck.
- With your elbow pointing upwards, slide your right palm down to your back
- With your left hand, grip your right elbow and gentle pull it toward your ear.
- Continue sliding your right palm down your back without straining.
- Hold for 10-20 seconds and release.
- Repeat with the opposite arm.
- Be sure to keep your head up and resist the urge to bend your neck forward.
8. Triceps Stretch
The triceps don’t get tight very easily ,but you use your upper body when you’re running, so it’s important to stretch your arms when you’ve finished your run. Here’s how to stretch your triceps,
- Bring one of your elbows across your body, towards your opposite shoulder.
- Use your other hand to bring your elbow closer to your shoulder.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then switch sides.