If you google “running” and “stretching” together, you get a lot of controversy. There are countless articles touting the benefits of stretching, but just as many cautioning runners to avoid it altogether. Some studies claim stretching increases flexibility, enhances range of motion, and prevents injury. Still other studies claim stretching increases risk for injury, weakens muscles, and wastes time.
Who do we believe?
Personally, I’m of the former camp. Although stretching isn’t my favourite activity, it does make me feel good. It allows me to focus on my body, connect with my muscles, and regroup after a long, hard run. And personally, I find that I feel less tight and more functional when I take time to stretch properly. So I do it.
I feel like the bottom line is that different people are different. So if you feel tight, stretch. And if you like stretching, stretch! But if you don’t want to… I’m not going to bust your butt about it. It’s your body. You have to decide for yourself what works for you and what doesn’t.
If you’re still with me, and have decided stretching is for you, below are some post-run stretches that I have found beneficial over the years. Feel free to email me with questions about any of them.
RULES FOR STRETCHING:
- Ease into the stretch slowly. Only go deep enough to begin feeling discomfort. If you reach pain, you’re too far.
- Now that you’re in the stretch, relax. If you can’t relax, hold on to something. No shoulder shrugging. No jaw clenching. Got it? Ahh.
- Breathe. I cannot stress this enough. If you aren’t breathing, you’re not stretching efficiently. Take slow, deep breaths. Allow your body to sink into the stretch.
- Make sure you stretch long enough to make a difference. Muscles will lengthen after 30-60 seconds. Connective tissue takes longer, about 90 seconds or more. How do you know how long to stretch? Well, if you stretch for 60 seconds and it still feels tight… keep going 🙂
Stretch 1: Levator Scapulae
This stretch is for the elevator scapulae muscle. A major shoulder shrugger, this muscle gets tight when you get tired on your runs. Tip your nose into your armpit. Gently use the same hand to guide the head down. Don’t force it. The stretch should be felt down the side of the neck into the shoulder. Make sure you come out slowly – this muscle will spasm if you are too rough with it!
Stretch 2: Pectorals
For the pectoral muscles, who take a beating both at the office and on the road. One arm leans up against the wall (play with the angle for optimal stretching – remember everyone is different!). Relax the shoulders down, and rotate the upper body away from the arm. You should feel the stretch in the upper arm, across the shoulder, and through the chest.
Stretch 3: Quads
Ah, the quad stretch. Careful with your knees on this one. If you find your balance is off, hold the wall, or do like I do and touch your bellybutton for balance. Grab the shoelaces, and keep your knees together. Make sure you are standing up straight, not bending at the waist. The stretch is felt down the front of the thigh.
Stretch 4: Hamstrings
For the hamstrings, this is just one way to go. Hamstrings can also be stretched sitting on a chair or the ground. Put your weight into one leg and bend the knee slightly. Dig the opposite heel into the ground and flex the toes toward your body. For support, you can place the hands on the standing leg. Make sure your butt is stuck out behind you. You should feel the stretch down the back of the thigh, and possibly into the calf, too.
Stretch 5: Hip Flexors
This is my favourite stretch as a runner. If I only have time for one, it’s my go-to! I prefer to put my knee on the ground or on a mat, but the option is there to keep it hovering above the ground as well. Take a wide lunge stance. Rotate your hips back, so your lower back flattens. Sink down into the lunge position. Make sure your upper body is not tipped forward – you need to be upright for this to work. You will feel the stretch deep in the abdominal area and possibly down the front of the thigh.
Stretch 6: TFL
This stretch targets the TFL muscle, which sits at the top of the IT Band. A major hot-spot for runners! Hold a wall if you need balance. Cross your right leg behind your left, and put all your weight into that right leg. Allow your right hip to stick out, and bend the right knee. The more you bend the right knee, the more stretch you will feel, right up at the hip and possibly down the side of the leg (the IT Band).
Stretch 7: Glutes & Piriformis
This one is also a go-to stretch for me. It targets the glutes and piriformis muscles, which are used a ton when running. Like the hamstrings stretch, this one can be done multiple ways – I’m just showing one of them. I really like holding the wall for this one – by the time I’m done running, my balance is toast! J Cross one foot over the opposite knee. Bend the standing knee and tip forward from the hip. Sit back like you’re about to plunk down into a chair (or actually go ahead and do that if you’d like – the stretch still works). You’ll feel this one in the crossed-leg butt cheek.
Stretch 8: Peroneals
This last one is two-fold. It allows the lower back to release, and works on the sides of the calves, or the peroneal muscles. Take a wide stance, 4 feet or so. Pigeon-toe your toes, and straighten your legs. Tip from the hips and place your hands on the ground in front of you (if you don’t reach the ground you can use a block, a ball, even a chair to support your hands). Lean your body weight into the toes. Can you feel the sides of your lower legs? Then you’re doing it right!
Talk to you soon!
Yours in health and wellness,