Stretching after running

As any runner knows, training for an endurance event is a demanding activity that requires serious mental and physical strength.  The last thing any athlete wants is an overuse injury bringing all their hard work and training to a screeching halt!  Although stretching recommendations vary from coach to coach, runners can benefit from performing static stretches at the end of their workout. Additionally, addressing areas that feel especially stiff or restricted with soft tissue mobilization can restore optimal muscle functioning and prevent future injuries.

The following stretches target areas that are especially at risk for running-related injuries.  The correct amount of time to hold each stretch depends upon your training goals.  Research indicates stretches should be held for 2 sets of 30 seconds in order to achieve benefit. However, when looking to prevent injury in chronically tight areas best results are achieved with holds of 3-5 minutes, which cause structural changes and allow tissue to truly adapt to increases in length.

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Important points to remember:

Do not bounce when performing static stretches.
Ease into each stretch to slowly find your end range of motion.

Different stretches for different muscle groups

– Lying Hamstring & Calf Stretches

While lying on your back place a towel, rope or exercise band around your foot.  Keeping your leg straight, slowly pull your leg towards you.  After working to increase hamstring length begin a second stretch and focus on pulling your toes towards your body.  A deep stretch should be felt in the calf.

Alternate option:  Target the hamstrings and adductors by lying on your back and placing your legs flat against a wall.  Make sure your heels, knees and hips are touching the wall.  Open your legs until a good stretch is felt.  For deeper relaxation and chest opening, breathe deeply and stretch your arms to either side with palms facing up.  Enjoy a quiet moment while soaking up all the stretching benefits!

– Deep Anterior Hip Stretch

Place the top of your right foot flat onto a bench (or couch) and bring your left leg into a lunge position.  Lean your upper body slightly back, engage your core by bringing your belly button towards your spine and hold onto the bench with both hands.  Bring your right knee down towards the ground until a deep stretch is felt along the front of the right thigh.  Try to have an awareness of your right glute contracting.  The goal is to feel the left hamstring working while the right hip flexors and anterior thigh stretch.

stretching after running_2

– Beginner’s option: Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Start in a lunge position with left foot forward and right knee placed on the floor.  Working to keep an upright posture, slightly tilt the pelvis backwards in order to engage the right glute muscles.  A stretch should be felt throughout the right hip flexors. In order to deepen the stretch, reach your hands up towards the sky with palms facing forward.

– Soft Tissue Mobilization for the Pirifomis & Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL)

The IT Band and Piriformis are some of the most problematic areas for runners.   Due to the location and structure of these areas it is often more effective to mobilize instead of stretching.

The following self-massage techniques can effectively target tissue restrictions and help avoid future injuries!

– Piriformis

Place a tennis or lacrosse ball on the floor.  Position your body so that the ball is below your hip joint and slightly to the outside. Roll around on the ball until the most tender points are located.  Place pressure on the ball and slightly open and close your leg to help release restricted tissue.  While working in this area, feel free to work on the glute muscles as well!

– TFL/ IT Band

TFL is one of the muscular origins of the infamous IT Band.  Targeting this area, along with the glutes, is one of the best ways to release pressure in a chronically tight IT Band.

Place a tennis or lacrosse ball on the ground.  Position your body so the ball is at the side of hip and slightly to the front (similar to the area where a front pants pocket would be located).  Roll around to find the areas of most restriction.  Once tender points are located the knee can be flexed and extended to further increase tissue mobility.

BonusDon’t forget the foot!

– Place a lacrosse or tennis ball on the floor and gently roll back and forth from heel to the base of the toes.  Stop and hold pressure on especially tender points.  Flex and extend the toes to further release tight areas.

Peak physical performance starts with a strong and healthy body.

Good habits, like post-run stretching and soft tissue mobilization can help keep you going!  The exercises suggested in this article are a great place for runners to begin when looking to prevent injury.  As always, it is best to consult a certified exercise professional to evaluate your individualized flexibility needs and provide an individualized program.

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References
Nelson AG, Kokkonen J, Arnall DA. (2005). Acute muscle stretching inhibits muscle strength endurance performance. Journal of Strength Conditioning Research. 19(2), 338 – 343.

Dicharry, Jay.  (2012). Anatomy for Runners. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.
Bandy WD, Irion JM. (1994). The effect of time on static stretch on the flexibility of the hamstring muscles. Physical  Therapy, 74(9), 845–850.

Cipriani D, Abel B, Pirrwitz D. (2003). A comparison of two stretching protocols on hip range of motion: implications for total daily stretch duration. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 17(2), 274–278.

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