Did you know that improper stretching is the second leading cause of running
injuries? Studies have shown that morning runners become injured more often
than noontime and evening runners, probably due to stretching cold muscles. It
is hard to stretch muscles that are not loosened and warmed up and you take the
risk of tearing a muscle. Think of your muscle as taffy. Taffy cannot stretch when
it is cold, it tears. Taffy can stretch when you warm it up, and it stretches a lot! A
thorough warm-up before stretching, or postponing stretching until after running,
may reduce the risk of injury.
So now the question is, why do I need to stretch? Many experts agree that
stretching reduces muscle soreness after running and results in better athletic
performance. Gentle stretching after a race or workout can also promote healing
and lactic acid removal from the muscles. Stretching is most effective when
performed several times each week; a minimum of one stretching session per
week is sufficient to maintain flexibility.
You need to be careful about how you stretch. Never bounce while stretching
because you can tear or pull the muscle you are trying to stretch. Also avoid
stretching too quickly, as the muscle will respond with a strong contraction and
increase tension. Stretch slowly, and hold the stretch for a minimum of 20 to 30
seconds. Remember, only stretch once your muscles are warm either after
a thorough warm up or after your run.
Basic Stretches for Runners
Head Circles: Start with your ear near your shoulder on
one side, rotate your head around to the front, ending
with your ear near the shoulder on the other side. Roll
your head back to the other side. Repeat 5-10 times.
Quadricep Stretch: Stand erect, holding onto a wall for support.
Bend your knee behind you so that you can grasp your foot, holding your heel
against your buttocks. Stand up straight and push your knee gently back as
far as you can, the hand just keeps the heel in place. (For some, it is more
comfortable to use the hand from the opposite side).
Hold for 20-30 seconds, then switch legs.
Hamstring Stretch #1: Lie down with one leg
straight up in the air, the other bent with foot flat
on the ground. Loop a towel over the arch of the
lifted foot, and gently pull on the towel as you
push against it with your foot. Push only to the
point where your muscles contract. Hold for 20-
30 seconds, then switch legs.
-You can also do this with a friend applying
gentle pressure to your foot while you lay flat on your back. This is often easier.
Hamstring Stretch #2: Stand erect near a chair or table
about 18” high. Place one foot on chair with heel down and
toes pointing up. Lean forward with a straight back until you
feel a slight stretch in the back of your leg. Hold for 20-30
seconds (keeping the back flat), then switch legs.
Calf Stretch: Stand an arm's-length from a wall/post.
Lean into wall/post, bracing yourself with your arms.
Place one leg forward with knee bent - this leg will
have no weight put on it. Keep other leg back with
knee straight and heel down. Keeping back straight,
move hips toward wall until you feel a stretch. Hold
30 seconds. Relax. Repeat with other leg.
Achilles Stretch: From the calf stretch position, bend
the back knee so that the angle is changed to stretch
the Achilles tendon. Keep your heel down, hold 15-30
seconds. Then switch legs.
Butterfly stretch: Sit with knees bent and the soles of your feet touching
each other. Keeping the back straight, hold your ankles. gently press
your knees downward and feel the stretch in your inner thighs. Hold
the stretch for at least ten seconds.