Stretching is the key to Injury Free Running
Incorporate a stretching routine into your workouts to reduce muscle soreness and prevent injury
Runners always seem perfectly able to squeeze in many hours of running every week but just don't seem to have the time to stretch for five or ten minutes before and after. Find the time.
Sure, it's not as fun as hitting the road, and the benefits may not be as immediately obvious. But a good and consistent stretching program can save you a lot of trouble and keep you running when you might otherwise become injured. Along with training gently and choosing the right shoes, stretching is the most important thing you can do to protect your body from the rigors of the road. You'll also find that the benefits of stretching include reduced muscle soreness after running and even better athletic
That said, you should be careful about how you stretch. If not done properly, stretching can actually cause injury rather than prevent it. Rule number one in stretching: do not bounce. It's a common mistake, but bouncing risks pulling or tearing the muscle you're trying to stretch and relax. Muscles must be stretched gradually. If a stretch is applied too quickly, the muscle responds with a strong contraction, increasing tension. If the stretch is applied slowly, however, this contraction reflex is avoided, muscle tension falls, and you may be able to stretch the muscle a bit further. The lesson here: stretch slowly and gently and hold the stretch for 30 to 40 seconds.
Do not stretch beyond the point where you begin to feel tightness in the muscle. Do not push through muscle resistance, and never stretch to the point of discomfort or pain. That old "no pain, no gain" cliche is just not correct. You should not feel actual pain when stretching. Build stretching into your regular schedule both before and after your daily run. It's best to do your pre-run stretching after a gentle warm-up run of five or ten minutes, since warm muscles stretch more easily.
Yoga is a perfect compliment to a running program. A good yoga class will incorportate most of the stretches a runner needs. Of course, you can't always catch a yoga class immediately before or after a run. In that case, try out the stretches below. If you must cut your stretching routine short, at least do both of the wall push-ups, the hamstring stretch, the heel to buttock stretch and the groin stretch. Then, find a yoga class you enjoy and get yourself there as often as possible. Your body will thank you.
1. Wall Pushup #1
Stand about three feet from a wall, feet at shoulder width and flat on the ground. Put
your hands on the wall with your arms straight for support. Lean your hips forward
and bend your knees slightly while pushing your heels down to stretch your calves.
2. Wall Pushup #2
From the previous position, bend forward to lower your body to waist height. Bring
one foot forward with your knee slightly bent. Lift the toes of the front foot to stretch
the muscle under the calf. Stretch both legs.
3. Back Scratch
Grab your elbow with the opposite hand and gently push the elbow up and across
your body until your hand reaches down to "scratch" your back. Gently push on your
elbow to guide your hand down your back as far as it will comfortably go, stretching
your triceps and shoulders. Stretch both arms.
4. Hamstring Stretch
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. Stretch both legs.
5. Quadriceps Stretch
Kneel on your knees (without resting back on your heels). Lean back with your body
erect and your arms to the side. Hold for 15 seconds.
6. Heel To Buttock
Stand on one foot, with one hand on a wall for balance. Hold the other foot with the
opposite hand and raise the heel of the lifted foot to the buttocks (or as close as
comfortably possible), stretching your quadriceps. Keep your body upright
throughout. Change legs and repeat.
7. Hip and Lower Back Stretch
Sit on the ground with your legs crossed. Lift your right leg and cross it over the left,
which should remain bent. Hug the right leg to your chest and twist the trunk of your
body to look over your right shoulder. Change legs and repeat looking over your
8. Iliotibial (IT) Band Stretch
Lie on your side with both legs bent in running position. Bring the bottom leg toward
your chest and then bring the top one back toward your buttocks, so that the running
position of your legs is exaggerated as possible. Hold for 30 seconds then flip sides
9. Hamstring and Back Stretch
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Hug your shins to your chest to stretch your
hamstrings and lower back.
Lie on your back and, with your feet flat on the ground, lift your hips up until your
body forms a flat plane. Repeat this one ten times for 30 seconds each to stretch your quads and
11. Groin Stretch
Seated, put the soles of your feet together. With your elbows on the inside of your
knees, gradually lean forward and gently press your knees toward the ground
That's all there is to it. 5 to 10 minutes can go a long way to prevent injury and keep you actively running!