If you run, you probably stretch. You've heard it's good for you and it just feels right. But when you stretch can be as important as how you stretch.
A review of 104 studies on the effect of pre-workout static stretching on strength, power, and explosive performance found a negative rather than positive effect — especially when each stretch is held longer than 45 seconds. It's believed that this "overstretching" of muscles may fatigue them, by weakening the muscle-tendon connection, before they get the chance to start working on a run. Pre-run stretching has also been found to have a negligible effect on injuries.
Sports scientists and coaches, however, have learned that stretching, especially "dynamic" stretching (stretching while moving), is relatively safe and may have a positive effect on performance after your muscles are warm. This assumes that you perform stretches correctly: stretch to the point of pressure, not pain, during static stretches.
Here's when you can most effectively slip in some stretches:
After Easy Runs
After easy runs — when the muscles are warm, but not overstressed — is a great time to do some stretches (static or dynamic). This has the added advantage of gradually letting your heart rate return to normal. Be sure to stretch the hamstrings, the muscles you work hardest when you run. The simplest hamstring stretches involve reaching for your toes with one hand at a time while standing (with one leg elevated on a bench) or sitting on the ground (seated hamstring stretch).
After Hilly Runs
Whether it's after hill repeats or a distance run over long or numerous hills, stretching after these runs should emphasize the muscles most involved on both descents (the hamstrings) and ascents (the calves and quadriceps). A simple calf stretch is to stand with your forefoot above a step or curb and slowly, gently drop your heel until you feel the stretch. This also stretches the Achilles tendon, which works hard on hills. Also, do Standing Quad Stretches: pull the back of each foot toward your butt.
Stretching after you've jogged a few laps on the track--but before you start doing "strides" or intervals — is a good time to stretch the muscles when they're warm, but not yet fatigued. This is especially valuable if you're doing "short" speed, such as 200-meter repeats, which are easier with flexible muscles. Dynamic stretches are best. These typically involve rotating your joints — hip circles, shoulder circles, neck circles, arm swings, and light "plyometric" exercises like "high knees" and "butt kicks."
Gym Workout Stretching
If you're wanting to get faster or improve endurance, cardio machines should be used before strength training at the gym, and the best time to stretch (static or dynamic) is between the two — when your legs are warm, but before they're fatigued by lower-body strength exercises or equipment. Note: Watching online videos of stretches is the best and easiest way to learn how to correctly perform stretches.
STRETCHING Mornings or Evenings
Light stretching when you get out of bed in the morning or before you go to bed at night, such as in front of the TV, can be worthwhile. But keep it light. Don't reach too far into stretches and don't hold stretches for longer than 30 seconds. Keep these stretches simple. Stretch the way a cat does after napping: A few seconds stretching out the paws and it's ready to chase mice. Gentle and relaxed static stretching has been proven effective to widen motion range, especially when done after a bath or shower (when muscles are warm).
TOP 5 STRETCHES FOR RUNNERS
- Hamstrings: Lying on your back with your left knee bent and foot flat on the floor, extend your right leg up. Clasping your hands just above or below your knee, gently pull your leg towards you. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch legs.
- Quadriceps: Balancing on your left leg and keeping your knees together, pull your right foot up behind you using your right arm. Try to pull that foot as close as you can to your butt. Make sure to hold your chest up and hips forward. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
- Hip Flexors: Kneel on your right knee with your left foot flat on the floor in front of you and knee bent at 90 degrees. Gently lean forward from the hips. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
- Calves: Stand with your feet side to side, then step one foot forward so they’re staggered. While bending your back knee, keep your forward leg straight, as you fold down to grab onto your front foot just beneath your toes. Apply gentle pressure to your toes, pulling them towards your leg and feeling the stretch in your calf. Switch legs after 30 seconds.
- Lower Back: Lying flat on your back, bring your knees to your chest and grasp your legs. Hug them to your chest for 30 seconds.
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