learn how to stretch

Stretching can be a relaxing and enjoyable part of your running training. It can also reduce soreness, improve your performance and keep you on the roads or track. Knowing how and when and what muscles to focus on, makes it easy to add flexibility exercises to your workouts.

How to Stretch

  • Move around and warm up your body before you begin. Flexing cold muscles is difficult and may cause injury.
  • Start with an easy stretch, where you feel a mild tension and relax. The tension should subside as you hold it. If it doesn’t, ease off and find a tension that’s comfortable. You shouldn’t feel pain.
  • Keep steady and don’t bounce around.
  • Hold for 10-30 seconds. You can count the seconds in your head. Over time you’ll know how long this feels and won’t need to count.
  • Keep your breathing slow and steady. Don’t hold your breath.
  • Repeat this action two or three times on each muscle. Start slowly each time moving a little further with each one until you feel the mild tension again.

When to Stretch

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Recent research shows that stretching before exercise could harm performance. While the debate continues it’s still widely agreed that it’s important to stretch after exercise.

Do a number of warm up exercises before running. These include high knee lifts, leg swings, upper body rotations to get the blood moving and muscles ready for your workout. Then jog slowly for 10 minutes before picking up the pace.

After your workout focus on the specific muscles that tighten and shorten with running. As a minimum spend a few minutes to flex and lengthen the calves, hamstrings and quads. Then work on the others when you have time.

Making the Time

We find the time to run but often forget to stretch. As we rush from running to work and family commitments it often gets put off. There are plenty of moments during the day when you can work on your flexibility. Try doing it while reading, on the phone, watching TV, listening to music, sitting or talking.

Specific Running Stretches

Here are a number of stretches to do after running.

Upper Calf (Gastrocnemius)

  1. Use a wall or bench for support and place both your hands against it.
  2. Place your right foot behind your left foot. Both your feet are facing forward and your heels are down. Your left leg is two feet from the wall and your knee is bent. Your right (back) leg is fully extended with the knee straight.
  3. Lean your hips forward, keeping your lower back flat until you feel an easy stretch in the upper calf of your right leg.
  4. Hold for 10-30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on your left leg.
  6. Repeat 2-3 times.

Lower Calf (Soleus) and Achilles Tendon
This is similar to the one above with a slight change in position.

  1. Use a wall or bench for support and place both your hands against it.
  2. Place your right foot behind your left leg. Both your feet are facing forward and your heels are down. Your left leg is two feet from the wall and your knee is bent. Your right (back) leg is around four feet from the wall and is also bent at the knee.
  3. Lean your hips forward, keeping your lower back flat until you feel an easy stretch in the lower calf of your right leg. You’ll also feel it slightly in your Achilles tendon.
  4. Hold for 10-30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on your left leg.
  6. Repeat 2-3 times.

Quadriceps (thigh)

  1. Use a wall or bench for support, face the support and place your left hand against it.
  2. With your right hand reach back, bend your right leg and grab your right ankle bringing it behind to your buttock.
  3. Your hips are forward and your knees are next to each other.
  4. You’ll feel a stretch in your right quad.
  5. Hold for 10-30 seconds.
  6. Repeat on your left leg.
  7. Repeat 2-3 times.

You can also do this one lying down on your side.

Hamstrings

  1. Sit on the floor.
  2. Place your right leg straight out and bend your left leg placing the sole of your left foot against your inner right thigh.
  3. Keep your back straight and bend from your hips towards your extended right leg.
  4. Place your hands where they land on your right thigh, knee, ankle or foot (it’ll depend on your flexibility).
  5. You’ll feel a stretch in your right hamstring.
  6. Hold for 10-30 seconds.
  7. Repeat on your left leg.
  8. Repeat 2-3 times.

Carmel Papworth-Barnum is editor of WomenRunningTogether. Visit the Running Injuries section http://www.women-running-together.com/runninginjuries.html to get more tips. Our website is where the beginner runner, the social jogger and the experienced competitor can share the joy, and occasional frustration of running. For running advice and support visit http://www.women-running-together.com/

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