Last week we considered running and knee pain. We will now look at the myths about stretching before running. It has long been advocated by many that stretching before a run is important, so as to prevent injuries, muscle tightness and fatigue. However, there are those who say that stretching before a run can actually cause more injuries. So who is right? Before I answer, it is important to say a little more about stretching. Did you know there is more than one way to stretch? For years people have focused on static stretching, where the muscles are taken to the end of their range and held for 20-30 seconds to increase flexibility. Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, involves moving the joint and muscles in repetitive movement patterns, starting small and gradually increasing the range. Research has found that dynamic stretching can reduce injury and prepare the body for the challenges and demands of running. So, instead of ditching your stretching routine for an extra 10 minutes of running, change the way you stretch. Use dynamic stretching before your run and include static stretching as part of your cool-down routine. Following are some good pre-run dynamic stretches for runners:
Glute and piriformis activation: This is great for the glutes, lower back and hips. In walking over a 20 metre distance, bring your ankle up, turning the foot up towards the knee (to increase the stretch, hold onto your ankle and raise it upwards, keeping your knee out and level to the ground). You should feel the stretch in the glutes and the side of the leg. Focus on good posture and balance. Aim to do 3 sets, walking back in between each set.
Walking hamstring stretch: A good stretch for tight hamstrings. This is similar to a static standing hamstring stretch. In standing, stretch your leg out in front of you, bend the back knee and lean forward, keeping your back straight. However, instead of standing still, slowly walk forward over a 20 metre distance, swinging your arms to increase the stretch. Aim to do 3 sets, walking back between each set.
Walking Lunges: Helps stretch the hip flexors and activates the glutes and hips. Slowly lunge forward but, instead of stepping back, bring the other leg forward. Walk for a 20 metre distance. Aim to do 3 sets, walking in between.
Ankle and calf stretches: Perfect for those suffer from Achilles, calf, plantar fasciitis, and shin problems. This exercise is like reverse walking. Instead of walking forward and putting the heel down first, followed by the toes, walk forward putting the toe and ball of the foot down first then the heel down. Start slowly but gradually increase your speed. Walk for about 30 seconds then walk back to your starting position. Aim for 3 sets.
Side leg swings: This is great for tight abductor muscles. Standing up straight and keeping your pelvis level, swing your leg in front of your body. Make sure you do not twist your trunk or pelvis. Aim for 15-20 repetitions and then repeat on the other leg.
Forward leg swings: Include this for tight hamstrings and hip flexors. Standing up tall, swing your leg backwards and forwards. Keep your head up and your pelvis aligned. As you swing, make sure you do not bend at the hip. Aim for 15-20 repetitions and then repeat on the other side.
Conclusion: Dynamic stretching before running prepares the muscles for activity and can help reduce the risk of injury. Static stretching, as part of your cool-down, helps to improve flexibility and recovery. There are still some who say stretching is not necessary. It is all down to choice and preventing injuries. If you can run without stretching and aren’t experiencing pain or discomfort during or after your run, then carry on.
In part three of this series we will look at adding a strength training routine to your running schedule.