Stretching - to help prevent injury



In 'Beginners training guide for 12k (3)', we talked briefly about the advantages of stretching and introduced some basic steps on how to stretch:

· Relax

· Ease into the stretch

· Relax your breathing

· Hold each stretch for 30 seconds

· Pain means no gain

· Reset and repeat

· Frequency

This week we want to take your post exercise stretching a step further and introduce you to some common static stretches for runners (also useful for walkers).

In a brief review of some of the available literature on recommended stretches for runners, it’s pretty obvious that there is a huge amount of information out there which can be pretty confusing. Some physiotherapist are now even recommending the use a “rolling” over stretching, claiming it is quicker and more effective:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=23&v=-zLMw30JNc8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSE8GkUkxnY&feature=youtu.be


Rolling aside, what most of the literature does seem to agree with is the need for both dynamic stretching at the beginning of your run (starting your run by gently warming up major muscle groups by walking, slow jog etc first), and the benefits of post run stretching – static stretching of major muscle groups.


Post run stretching

After you’ve completed your run allow at least 10-15 minutes for stretching. Before I stretch I always walk for a few minutes post run to allow my heart rate and breathing to return towards normal levels, it also helps remove some of the lactic acid produced by muscle activity. When I stretch I concentrate on some of the major muscle groups, especially those in the legs. I’ve learnt over the years that the more I run, the less flexible I become – if I don’t stretch! Stretching can improve your natural range of motion which can improve your running technique and increase your stride length, while reducing your risk of injury. Sounds good doesn’t it?

Two important areas for runners to focus on are the hip flexors and hamstrings. Your hip flexors are the muscles that lift your thigh relative to the hip. These are some of the strongest muscles in the body and tend to become short and inflexible in runners. Tight hamstrings restrict your stride length by preventing your thigh from swinging forward completely.

The following program provides total-body stretches and is recommended if you’re serious about improving your flexibility. It’s ideal for after your run, or you can do it as a stand-alone session after a few minutes of walking, jogging, or cycling to warm your muscles. Do each stretch twice. Perform the first repetition with a gentle intensity and the second stretch with a moderate intensity. Don’t stretch forcefully. If you don’t have time to do the entire program, then select the exercises that work your tightest muscles.

Exercise




EXERCISE 1: BENT-LEG CALF STRETCH

· How many: 2 repetitions of 20 to 30 seconds per side

· How it helps: improves flexibility of soleus (deep/lower calf) muscles

· How to do it: Stand an arm’s length away from the wall, with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing directly forward. Slide your right foot back so that your weight is over your left foot, as shown. Slowly bend your left knee until you feel a stretch in the lower calf muscle. Repeat on the other side.



EXERCISE 2: STRAIGHT-LEG CALF STRETCH

· How many: 2 repetitions of 20 to 30 seconds per side

· How it helps: improves flexibility of gastrocnemius (upper calf) muscles

· How to do it: Stand an arm’s length away from a wall, with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing directly forward. Take one step and lean forward so that your hands are flat on the wall as shown. Keep your back foot flat on the floor and your back knee straight. Slowly move your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the calf muscle of the back leg. Repeat on the other side.



EXERCISE 3: KNEELING HAMSTRING STRETCH

· How many: 2 repetitions of 20 to 30 seconds per side

· How it helps: improves flexibility of hamstring muscles

· How to do it: Kneel on the floor. Lift one knee and move it out in front of you so that the leg is straight and the heel is on the floor. Your toes should be pointing forward rather than straight up at the ceiling. While keeping a slight arch in your lower back and the rest of your back as straight as possible, lean forward until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Repeat on the other side.



EXERCISE 4: LYING HAMSTRING STRETCH

· How many: 2 repetitions of 20 to 30 seconds per side

· How it helps: improves flexibility of hamstring muscles

· How to do it: Lie on your back on the floor. Lift one leg up, keeping it relatively straight, and join your hands behind your thigh as shown. Pull your leg toward you until you feel a stretch in your hamstring muscle. Repeat on the other side.



EXERCISE 5: QUADRICEPS STRETCH

· How many: 2 repetitions of 20 to 30 seconds per side

· How it helps: improves flexibility of quadriceps muscles (major muscles that straighten the knee)

· How to do it: Stand near a wall for balance. Lift your left foot off the floor, bend your left knee, and pull your left heel toward your buttocks as shown until you feel a stretch in the quadriceps. Don’t lean forward or allow your lower back to arch. Repeat on the other side.



EXERCISE 6: HIP FLEXOR STRETCH

· How many: 2 repetitions of 20 to 30 seconds per side

· How it helps: improves flexibility of hip flexors (muscles connecting front of hip to trunk)

· How to do it: Start in a kneeling position, and move one leg forward so that your foot is flat on the floor and your front shin is approximately vertical. While keeping your upper body vertical and head up, move your hips forward as shown until you feel a stretch across the front of your hip. Repeat on the other side.



EXERCISE 7: GLUTEAL STRETCH

· How many: 2 repetitions of 20 to 30 seconds per side

· How it helps: improves flexibility of gluteal (butt) and external rotator muscles

· How to do it: Lie on your back on the floor, with knees and hips bent to 90 degrees and feet flat against a wall. Cross your right ankle over your left knee, and push the inside of your right knee toward the wall as shown until you feel a stretch on the outside of your right hip. Repeat on the other side.



EXERCISE 8: HIP ROTATION STRETCH

· How many: 2 repetitions of 20 to 30 seconds per side

· How it helps: improves hip rotation by stretching gluteals and muscles of the lower back

· How to do it: Lie on your back on the floor, with arms out to the side and legs outstretched. Lift one leg off the floor, bending it at the knee and the hip to 90 degrees. Rotate the bent leg across your body as shown until you feel a stretch in your hip, torso, and lower back. Use your hand to push the bent leg across your body and toward the floor. Keep your head and shoulders in contact with the floor. Repeat on the other side.



EXERCISE 9: SWISS BALL SHOULDER AND LAT STRETCH

· How many: 2 repetitions of 20 to 30 seconds

· How it helps: improves flexibility of shoulders, upper chest, and back

· How to do it: Kneel in front of the Swiss ball, stretch your arms out in front of you, and rest both hands on the ball as shown. With your upper body horizontal and head looking straight down at the floor, slowly push your chest downward toward the floor until you feel a stretch through your chest, upper back, and shoulders.



EXERCISE 10: SWISS BALL CHEST STRETCH

· How many: 2 repetitions of 20 to 30 seconds per side

· How it helps: improves flexibility of chest and shoulders

· How to do it: Kneel on the ground with a Swiss ball positioned beside you. Place one arm on the Swiss ball, and bend your elbow to 90 degrees as shown. Keep the other arm on the floor to provide balance and support. Gently push your upper body toward the floor until you feel a stretch through your chest and shoulder. Repeat on the other side. This exercise can also be performed with your arm straight.



EXERCISE 11: SWISS BALL LOWER BACK STRETCH

· How many: 2 repetitions of 20 to 30 seconds

· How it helps: improves flexibility of lower back and abdominal muscles

· How to do it: Sit on the Swiss ball, with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly roll your hips forward over the ball, and lean back so that you’re lying over the ball as shown. You should feel a gentle stretch in your lower back and abdominal muscles. Reach above your head only as far as is comfortable.



EXERCISE 12: DOWNWARD DOG

· How many: 2 repetitions of 20 to 30 seconds

· How it helps: lengthens spine and improves flexibility of shoulders, hamstrings, and calf muscles

· How to do it: Kneel down and lean forward, with your arms outstretched and your hands pressed firmly against the floor (photo a). Slowly lift your hips in the air by straightening your knees until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings (photo b). Depending on your level of flexibility, you might not be able to get your legs completely straight. Keep your back straight and your head down throughout the stretch, as shown. Rising up and down onto the toes while in the downward dog position alters the stretch in the hamstring and calf muscles.



Adapted from: Pfitzinger, Pete. Advanced Marathoning - 2nd Edition

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