There's an endless number of runners who seem perfectly able to squeeze in many hours of running every week but who just don't seem to have the time to stretch for five or ten minutes before and after. Find the time.
Sure, it's not as fun as hitting the road, and the benefits may not be as immediately obvious. But a good and consistent stretching program can save you a lot of trouble and keep you running when you might otherwise become injured. Along with training gently and choosing the right shoes, stretching is the most important thing you can do to protect your body from the rigors of the road. You'll also find that the benefits of stretching include reduced muscle soreness after running and even better athletic performance.
That said, you should be careful about how you stretch. If not done properly, stretching can actually cause injury rather than prevent it. Rule number one in stretching: do not bounce. It's a common mistake, but bouncing risks pulling or tearing the muscle you're trying to stretch and relax. Muscles must be stretched gradually. If a stretch is applied too quickly, the muscle responds with a strong contraction, increasing tension. If the stretch is applied slowly, however, this contraction reflex is avoided, muscle tension falls, and you may stretch the muscle further. The lesson here: stretch slowly and hold the stretch for 30 to 40 seconds.
Do not stretch beyond the point where you begin to feel tightness in the muscle. Do not push through muscle resistance, and never stretch to the point of discomfort or pain.
Build stretching into your regular schedule both before and after your daily run -- it's best to do your pre-run stretching after a gentle warmup run of five or ten minutes, since "warm" muscles stretch more easily.Stretching can have a variety of benefits for runners when done properly. Before you try the following stretches, learn Why to Stretch After Warming Up, and read about the Most Common Running Injuries.
There are many different ways to stretch your calf, but here is a simple stretch you can do while standing.
2. Standing IT Band Stretch
The iliotibial (IT) band is a tough group of fibers that run along the outside of the thigh. It begins at the hip and extends to the outer side of the shin bone (tibia) just below the knee joint. The IT band acts primarily as a stabilizer during running and may become irritated from overuse. IT Band Syndrome is a common running injury that is generally due to inflammation and irritation of this band.
There are many different ways to stretch your IT Band including:
1. Advanced IT Band Stretch
2. Foam Roller for IT Band Pain
Here is a simple stretch you can do while standing.
The quadriceps (quads) are a group of muscles along the front of the thigh. They consist of the quadriceps femoris, the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and the vastus intermedius.
This muscle group extends the leg while straightening the knee and is a primary mover in stair climbing and cycling. Injuries to the quariceps muscle are often caused by a strength or flexibility imbalance between the quadriceps and the hamstrings.
There are many different ways to stretch your quadriceps, but here is a simple one you can do while standing.
Because tightness in the low back and hamstrings is often related to muscle pain and stiffness in runners, stretch can help maintain good running form and reduce the risk of stiffness, pain and injury.
The hip flexors are often overused in runners. These muscles pull the legs up toward the trunk and runners rely on these muscles, particularly when running uphill, so keeping the limber is essential.
There are several different exercises used to stretch the hip flexors and psoas muscles. These are two of the basic stretches to get you started.
Stretch One - Beginner Hip Flexor Stretch
Stretch Two - Advanced Hip Flexor Stretch
You can modify either of these stretches based upon your own anatomy, flexibility and limitations. Be sure to keep your forward knee over or behind your ankle and not in front of your ankle.
6. Simple Shoulder Stretch
Runners sometimes forget to stretch their upper body, but this basic shoulder stretch can be done quickly, so it's a good choice.
There are several different exercises used to stretch the shoulders. This is a simple stretch you can do anytime and anywhere.
Simple Shoulder Stretch
You can modify this stretch based upon your own anatomy, flexibility and limitations.
7. Plantar Fasciits Stretch
Runners who've had plantar fasciitis know how painful it is. By stretching the plantar fascia, a band of tough connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot to the heel you can help prevent such a debilitating injury.
The new stretch targets the plantar fascia and is performed by crossing the affected foot over the contralateral (other) leg and pulling the toes toward the shin, until a stretch in the arch is felt. The stretch is held for 10 seconds and repeated. Three sets of 10 repetitions are performed daily. This is a change from the standard treatment that recommends the weight-bearing Achilles tendon stretch. When done before taking the first step in the morning, after prolonged sitting and at least three times a day, the stretch has shown to reduce pain significantly.
8. Advanced Piriformis Stretch
Runners can benefit from this advanced stretch, that is sometimes called the Pigeon Pose in yoga.
The Iliotibial (IT) Band is a tough group of fibers that run along the outside of the thigh and stabilizes the entire leg during activities such as running or stair-climbing. It begins at the hip and extends to the outer side of the shin bone (tibia) just below the knee joint.
Many runners experience IT Band friction syndrome due to inflammation and irritation of a tight, inflexible IT band. To prevent this common cause of knee pain it helps to perform regular IT Band stretches. There are many different ways to stretch your IT band. This is a more advanced stretch, that is sometimes called the Pigeon Pose in yoga. For a simpler stretch, see the Standing IT Band Stretch (#2).
Because this stretch is more advanced, it often helps if you loosen the IT Band by using a foam roller before doing this stretch
9. Advanced Kneeling Quadriceps Stretch
Another way to get the quads stretched out after a run is this kneeling quad stretch.
10. Advanced Quad Stretch with an Exercise Band
This quad stretch is best done after your runs when you have some time to relax and get the most out of this long, slow stretch. This stretch can also be used to stretch the hip flexors and psoas muscles.
There are many different ways to stretch your quadriceps, but here is a more advanced stretch that many pro athletes use after a good warm up.