What are the Ten Essential Stretches for Runners?
Runners suffer from one universal problem – stiff joints and tensed muscles. Stretching exercises work on specific muscles and relieve stiffness, while increasing flexibility. Building endurance and enhancing speed is the main goal of runners.
Flexible body may not seem the need of the hour for runners yet only a flexible body is an efficient body. It can endure hard training programs easily and is less prone to injury. A flexible body also tends to recover faster. Considering the benefits of having a flexible body for running, it is important to build flexibility along with endurance training. Stretching is the answer to a more flexible body.
Runners need to follow a pre- and post-run stretching routine for best outcomes.
Using multiple forms of stretching routine is advised by experts. This enhances the effects of stretching and allows athletes to experience the varied benefits of stretching. Using dynamic, static, contract-relax, yoga and active-isolated forms of stretching is the best combination for a runner.
Remember the old rule: Always warm up before stretching. A 10-minute jog or any other light aerobic exercise is advised before starting your stretching routine. 'Cold' muscles should never be stretched.
Meghan Keenihan, USA Track & Field certified coach, advises dynamic stretches for the pre-run routine and static after the run. According to Kennihan, “Dynamic stretches activate and loosen up all your leg muscles, preparing you for your run. Static stretching at the end of your run can bring your heart down, cut your risk of injury and lessen muscle soreness."
These 10 essential stretching exercises are aimed at covering both the pre-run and post-run muscle loosening stretches and activation of the core leg muscles used for running including calves, quadriceps, hips and hamstrings. You can cover these in 20-30 minutes and at least keep the stretch routine for three days minimum if not daily.
Pre-Run: These help in warming up the muscles, increasing body temperature and preparing you for the hard run.
Walking lunges: With your right leg take a large step forward. Bend your knee and ensure that the thigh is parallel to the floor while the knee is in line with your ankle. Now draw your left knee with your right while stepping forward with the right. Walking lunges must be kept easy and comfortable. The idea is to focus on proper form. 10 per leg is a good beginning.
Leg swings: This can be done easily while holding on to a strong object and standing on one leg. Swing the other leg forward and backward, doing 10 swings per leg. Then repeat the same sideways. This helps in stretching the lower back muscles too and readying the body for the run.
Lower Body Russian Twist: Lie down on your back. Bring your legs up in a perpendicular angle to the floor while bending your knees at 90-degrees. Maintaining this position, now slowly lower your legs to the left part of your body and keep the shoulders in touch with the floor. Bring the legs back to the starting position and then repeat the same with your right side of the body. This will complete one repetition.
Butt Kicks: Raise your heels towards your glutes as you jog stationary on the balls of your feet. Ensure that your feet feel light and the center of gravity is kept slightly forward. A 30-second butt kick is good, to begin with. This can be done without jogging too. Just raise your heels towards your glutes standing stationary.
Hacky Sack: Stand straight with shoulders square and foot slightly apart. Now lift your right leg while bending the knee so that it points outward. Try to touch the inside of your raised feet with your palms without bending your body.
Toy Soldier: Keeping your body straight and shoulders square, walk as if in a marching parade; Keep your arms straight out in front with your hands roughly at your head height. Raise your right leg up to the level of your hands and walk forward. This helps in stretching the hamstrings.
No runner wants to do anything but crash after a solid, tiring running stint but adding even a five-minute specific stretch routine will help you maintain a range of motions and relax the tensed muscles. Hold all stretches for 30 seconds minimum.
Standing quad: Keep your legs together as you stand. Now slowly bend your left from the knee ensuring your heel touches the butt. Hold the left foot with your left hand and hold the position for at least 20 counts. Repeat the same with the other leg. This completes one set.
Standing calf: Face a wall with your hands on the wall and stand on the edge of a box or step with your heels and mid-foot towards the wall. Use the support of the wall to stay balanced and till you feel a stretch in your calf muscles. Do not bend your knees and keep the legs straight.
Kneeling hip flexor: Start with your right hip flexors by kneeling on your right knee and keeping your left foot in front of you. Your left knee and left hip should be in a 90-degree position. Put a cushion on the floor for your knee if you find this uncomfortable. Place your right hand on the right hip. Now gently push your right hip forward to align it with your right knee in front. Do not bend forward at the hips and maintain an upright chest position.
Tight hip flexors result in lower back pain and disc denegation. Their full range of movements ensures supple and strong muscle movements while keeping the lower back pain at bay.
The Cobra Position: Including this versatile yoga posture in the 10 essential stretches for runners will round off the routine with a powerful yet gentle lower body stretch.
Lie down on your stomach, keeping your chin lowered and hands flat on the side. Now slowly raise your head and upper body from your hips onwards while inhaling. Keep the hips, legs and feet firmly on the ground. Feel the stretch in your lower back muscles. Keep your head straight while you hold this position for at least 12-13 seconds. Exhale and come back to your original position. Do not execute any sudden or forced movements. The cobra posture strengthens the lower back muscles, expands the lung capacity and warms the torso.
According to research the benefits of having flexible muscles for a runner include increasing efficiency and recovery power. Flexible muscles take to glycogen replacement easily, which provides the energy for the next run. Stretching routines demand just 10 minutes out of a runner’s training program and provide 10 fold gains!
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