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.