Flexibility Matters – especially for runners!
Stretching – we’ve all heard about it, but the real question is, do we get enough of it? As runners, we put our bodies through a lot! We pound the pavement and log mile after mile each week. Time spent running adds up each week, and with only so many hours in a day, stretching is often the first thing that gets skipped or cut short. Today, we’ll break down the importance of stretching and how it can help you become a stronger runner long term!
Benefits of Stretching and Flexibility
According to NASM, in reference of a study by Clark and Lucett (2015), “the benefits of flexibility training include: decreased chance of injury, prevention or correction of muscle imbalances, improved posture, and enhancement of joint range of motion.” In another study by Shier (2004), NASM explains that “regular stretching, not specifically stretching before exercise, improves performance on the following variables: maximal voluntary contraction, contraction velocity, eccentric and concentric contraction force, counter-movement jump height, and 50-yard dash time.” In other words, working on stretching and general flexibility, not only before a run, can improve power, performance, and maybe even speed! Not to mention, it helps prevent all types of injury, both short and long term, as well as helps with posture that could translate into running form!
Types of Stretching
Now that you understand the benefits of flexibility, let’s focus on 3-common types of stretching that can help improve flexibility: Static Stretching, Dynamic Stretching, and Self-Myofascial Release (SMR). These are not the only types of stretching, but these are common and easy to implement into your everyday routine!
Static stretching has come under a lot of scrutiny in the scientific world. There are theories that this type of stretching before exercise can have a negative effect on performance, however, you can find articles about static stretching that argue both sides of this theory! However, according to NASM, static stretching “can be used before or after exercise” and “involves passively taking the muscle to the point of tension and holding for a minimum of 30 seconds, for 1-3 sets.” An example of a static stretch is holding a toe reach or hurdler’s stretch for an extended period of time.
The next stretch is dynamic stretching, which involves movement through a stretch. According to NASM, “it increases flexibility through the force produced by the muscles and the body’s momentum to take a joint through a full range of motion.” Examples of dynamic stretches are arm circles, leg swings, lunges, and anything involving movement!
Lastly, self-myofascial release (SMR), is normally performed with a foam roller and according to NASM, “can be used before or after exercise, applying gentle pressure for a minimum of 30 seconds to tender spots (trigger points).” This will help release tension in the muscle.
Putting it All Together
At this point you may be thinking, “what does this mean for me as a runner?” Great question! In simplest terms, it means stretching should be a key part of your routine if not for performance benefits, but also for injury prevention which can lead to longevity in running. In my own experience, I have seen the most success with performing dynamic stretches before a run. After a run, I cool down with 5 minutes of easy paced jogging/walking followed by static stretching. If I am short on time, I save the static stretching for before bed because as mentioned above, it can be helpful at any time! Foam rolling is great before or after a run – or both if needed!
Below are some of my favorite pre and post run stretches that can be implemented into your routine!
Pre-Run Dynamic Warm Up:
- 5 minutes of power walking
- Leg Swings
- Lateral Lunges/Cossack Squats
- Forward Walking Lunges
- Ankle Mobility/Circles
- Arm circles
- High Knees
Post-Run Static Stretching:
- Hurdler’s Stretch
- Standing toe reach (hamstrings)
- Couch Stretch
- Standing Quad Stretch
- Overhead Reach
- Standing triceps stretch
Foam Rolling Resources:
Below are some great resources and tutorials on how to properly foam roll to release tension in the muscles!
We hope this helps on your road to running recovery and injury prevention and if you’re not already stretching as part of your routine, consider adding in some of these tips. Over time your body will thank you!