Main­tain­ing a Run­ning Pro­gram: Stretch­ing


Al­though run­ning car­ries with it tremendous health ben­e­fits, in terms of mus­cle de­vel­op­ment it also has its draw­backs.

Over time peo­ple who run on a reg­u­lar ba­sis dis­cover cer­tain ar­eas of the body tend to tighten up to the point the mus­cles and ten­dons be­come ex­tremely in­flex­i­ble.

This tight­ness is most no­tice­able in the Achilles Ten­dons, the calf mus­cles and the ham­strings (the thick mus­cles in the back of your thighs). Without proper in­ter­ven­tion, th­ese ar­eas can be­come prob­lem­atic and even­tu­ally lead to a se­ri­ous in­jury.

To coun­ter­act this prob­lem, make it a prac­tice to stretch on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

Most novice run­ners think stretch­ing is ‘warm­ing up to run’. Wrong!

Stretch­ing a cold mus­cle can in and of it­self can cause se­ri­ous in­jury. There­fore, it is not a good idea to stretch just be­fore run­ning or racing.

The mus­cles are tight and you can eas­ily overex­tend, which may re­sult in a pull or strain. If you do stretch be­fore you run, pro­ceed very slowly.

Sim­i­larly, stretch­ing af­ter a train­ing run, or race, may also be un­wise.

Af­ter a race or a hard train­ing run, the mus­cles don’t sim­ply stop all ac­tiv­ity when you stop. They are still ‘revved up’ and ready to go for about an­other 10-20 min­utes. Stretch­ing right af­ter you stop run­ning may cause se­ri­ous spasms, leav­ing you tighter than be­fore.

What run­ners should do is walk or jog slowly for about 10-15 min­utes then stop and do their stretch­ing rou­tine. This is par­tic­u­larly true be­fore a race or a hard work­out.

If your work­out con­sists only of a very slow jog, then stretch­ing af­ter you stop may not do you se­ri­ous harm.

Run­ners need to fo­cus on three main mus­cle groups: calf and Achilles (back of the lower leg be­low knee), ham­string (back of up­per leg be­tween knee and butt) and lower back (butt and lower back area).

For best re­sults, stretch each group in iso­la­tion. Ease into the stretch­ing po­si­tion and hold each one for about 10-20 sec­onds. As your mus­cles be­come more flex­i­ble, in­crease the length of time you hold each stretch.

For the calf and Achilles stretch, brace your hands against a wall or pole. Ex­tend your back leg and grad­u­ally sup­port the body weight on the back leg, keep­ing it slightly bent. As you bend the knee of the back leg more you will stretch your Achilles ten­don.

To stretch the ham­string, lie on your back, and loop a towel over your foot. While keep­ing the knee slightly bent, tighten the towel gen­tly un­til your leg is raised in such a po­si­tion you feel a gen­tle stretch on the ham­string.

For your lower back, get in a squat­ting po­si­tion and let your head drop for­ward un­til it is rest­ing on your knees. Also, let your arms dan­gle over your knees in a re­laxed man­ner. You should feel a slight gen­tle pull that runs down both sides of your back to your butt.

De­pend­ing on your body struc­ture, there are other ar­eas such as your neck and shoul­ders that could also ben­e­fit from reg­u­lar stretch­ing.

Ly­man Keep­ing is an avid run­ner and long time mem­ber of the Mariners Ath­let­ics Club.

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