You’re running along. Everything seems ok. You feel a pulling sensation in front of your thigh. As you continue running, it gets worse, eventually forcing you to stop.
Stretching is as important to running as running. Left untreated, tight muscles can be the difference between lining up on the starting line for a race, or watching it from the sidelines.
Tight muscles don’t loosen up on their own. The more you run, the tighter they become. Think of your muscles as rubber bands that have the potential to become so tight they snap. Although this visual is dramatic, it is accurate. The good news is you don’t have to wait for something awful to happen before you take action. You can stop tightness before months of hard training go to waste, and all it doesn’t have to take more than 15 minutes a day.
First, you must become acutely aware of how you feel. When we run, many of us mentally check out, allowing our minds to run amok. We allow events of the day, unresolved issues of the past and worries of the future to infiltrate our workouts. This distracts us from what’s going on in and around us, creating a recipe for disaster. By checking in, and becoming acutely aware of unfamiliar bodily sensations, we will be better able to sense when tightness is brewing.
Second, you must stretch. I’m sure you’ve heard how important it is to stretch, but with all the conflicting information, I know it can be confusing to know what to do. 20 years ago, static stretching was popular and performed by runners and athletes participating in a variety of sports, then the research started to come out. Some said static stretching was good, others said it was not and many said stay away from stretching altogether.
The truth is the benefits of stretching, like most aspects of training is unique to each individual. Some runners thrive on static stretching, some on dynamic stretching and others a combination of the two.
Static stretching is stretching that involves holding a pose for a predetermined time frame. Between 10 and 30 seconds is popular. To stretch your hamstrings, lie on your back, get a rope, strap, etc., put it around the bottom of your right foot grip the ends and gently pull your leg up until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstring, hold for your predetermined amount of seconds and then lower your leg to the floor and repeat.
You should notice your leg becoming more flexible with each stretch. Don’t go any higher than your body will allow. Let’s say normal range is getting your hamstring flexible enough that you can lie on your back with the bottom of your feet pointing directly at the ceiling. There is no point in stretching beyond that. It is not necessary to get your knees to touch your nose.
Some have issue with static stretching because as you hold the stretch, your muscles contract in opposition and that can lead to injury. Warming up properly and staying within your limits are essential for effective and safe static stretching.
Active Isolated Stretching
Active Isolated Stretching became popular in the 70’s by Jim and Phil Wharton. Active Isolated Stretching a combination of static and dynamic stretching. When performing an active isolated stretch, hold the stretch for up to 2 seconds, release it. then hold it again.
For example, to stretch your hamstrings using this technique, get a rope, belt or strap, loop it around the bottom of your foot, hold the ends in your hands, keep your leg straight (but not locked) and pull your foot towards the ceiling. When you started to feel resistance, pause for two seconds, then lower your leg. Repeat this 10 times before switching legs. Stretching this way doesn’t give your tissue a chance to contract while it is being stretched at the same time
Dynamic stretching has become one of the most popular types of stretching; certainly, among elite athletes. Dynamic stretching involves continuous movement. Let’s take your hamstring again. to dynamically stretch your right hamstring, stand next to a wall and put your left arm out so your hand touches the wall. swing your leg gently back and forth to stretch it. You might do this 10 times before switching to the other leg.
Full Dynamic Stretching Routine
A lot has been said about stretching and it can be confusing whether to stretch or not, what stretches to do and how often to do them. The truth is you have to do what works for you. You may not want to hear this, but it is a bit of trial and error. You may find static stretching works best or a combination of static and dynamic stretching, just active isolated stretching or no stretching at all (just the foam roller).
Just like no one running program works for everyone, no stretching program works for everyone, but it can be agreed that you need to be pliable, supple and mobile. However that happens is up to you.
Lisa is a 1:16 half marathoner and heart and soul behind The Conscious Runner, which is dedicated to helping you run faster through strength training, mobility and meditation. Instead of letting your runs pass you by in a semi-conscious state, you are completely aware of what is going on inside and around you to help you become the best runner you can be. For updates, visit Lisa at The Conscious Runner.