Stretching For Runners
Running is one of the oldest and most popular sports in the world, most runners feel that running is simple, in reality it is complex. Running is one of the only sports that gives the whole body a work out.
Running long distances is strenuous on the muscles and if they are over worked and under cared for they can be damaged, causing the muscles that are active to become strong and less flexible, whereas the opposing muscles that become weaker.
Stretching is a perfect way to care for your muscles.
The three main reasons why stretching is so beneficial to a runners body is: it reduces the risk of injury, helps prevents muscle soreness and may improve performance.
What is actually happening to the body during a stretch is complex. Each muscle contains stretch receptors that attach themselves to the working part of the muscle called, muscle fibres. Stretch receptors measure the degree of the stretch, sending a message through the spinal cord to the nerves that control the contraction of the muscle where the receptors are. As you stretch more intensely the receptors begin to send out pulses harder and more rapidly. These pulses exceed a certain frequency, and the stretched muscle contracts and shortens, preventing overstretching.
Unfortunately, stretching is not done willingly by runners. Even though it would only take an extra five to ten minutes on top of the one or two hour run. There are numerous reasons why stretching is so unpopular. Stretching hurts, since runners feel pain when they are stretching they get nervous that they may be doing it wrong, hurting their muscles rather then helping them. Over stretching is a common problem that some runners face. This causes the muscle to tear and the runner will not be able to run until the muscle is healed. Another stretching related injury is improper stretching, the runner must be familiar with each stretch they plan to do.
Since every muscle is different some stretches help some parts of the body, and some are useless. To solve this problem we must break stretching into four different categories.
The first kind of stretching is called Ballistic Stretching. This involves the body bobbing up and down forcing a tight stretch out of a muscle. This is the least effective way of stretching and the most dangerous. It is very easy to pull a muscle by ballistic stretching. The only positive affect that ballistic stretching has on the muscle is activating the stretch reflex.
The second type is Passive Stretching. Passive stretching involves a partner applying additional pressure to increase the intensity of the stretch.
The third form is Contract Relax Stretching. Contract Relax Stretching is rather complex and takes practice in order to make the stretch useful. The muscle that is going to be stretched is actively contracted and then stretched immediately after it relaxes. This stretch utilizes the inverse stretch flex. This form of stretching is useful for all sports because of its effectiveness to all muscles.
The fourth and final type of stretch is called the Static Stretch. The static stretch is the most commonly used stretch amongst runners. The static stretch is held for 30 to 60 seconds, allowing a slow build up of tension in the muscle. Since this stretch is done so slowly, the stretch reflex is not activated. Static stretching is popular amongst runners because it causes very little muscle tension build up.
Once you choose the type of stretch you should spend a minimum of five to ten minutes stretching their upper and lower body. The runners back and neck must be stretched thoroughly in order to minimize chance of injury in those areas. Just because a runner may only run for thirty minutes, they should still spend five to ten minutes stretching, as if it were a three hour race. Once the run is over the runners should catch their breath and then stretch again. This final stretch loosens the tight muscles and prevents cramping. Runners who jog daily should definitely stretch after all runs to prevent soreness in the following days run. Most runners do not stretch after their runs because they are usually tired and sore.
The first step a runner should take to create a program is deciding how long the program should last. Once the program begins the runner must stretch every day changing the stretches daily. By changing the stretches periodically every muscle in the body will get stretched evenly within a few days. Even if the runner is not planning on running every day, five to ten minutes a day should still be spent stretching so that the muscles don’t get weak. Stretching takes practice, so start with easier stretches and then build up to harder ones. Once the runner feels tightness in the muscle being stretched, they should hold the stretch for thirty to sixty seconds. At no point during the stretch should the runner feel any discomfort of pain. If the runner sticks to this program there will be guaranteed results. Not only will there be an adequate change in their performance, but the runner will look and feel better during and after runs.
All it takes is one tear or strain in an important muscle to end a running career. Even if a runner does recover after pulling a muscle they will never be one hundred percent healed, and it is possible for that muscle to give out again at any time during a run. This is why five to ten minutes a day is a small sacrifice to pay for a lifetime of enjoyment.
Stand about three feet from a wall, feet at shoulder width and flat on the ground. Put your hands on the wall with your arms straight for support. Lean your hips forward and bend your knees slightly to stretch your calves.
From the previous position, bend forward to lower your body to waist height. Bring one foot forward with your knee slightly bent. Lift the toes of the front foot to stretch the muscle under the calf. Stretch both legs.
Put your feet together, rocking back on your heels with your hands on the wall and your arms straight to form a jackknife with your body. This stretches your hips, shoulders, and lower back.
Grab your elbow with the opposite hand and gently push the elbow up and across your body until your hand reaches down to “scratch” your back. Gently push on your elbow to guide your hand down your back as far as it will comfortably go, stretching your triceps and shoulders. Stretch both arms.
Lie down with one leg straight up in the air, the other bent with foot flat on the ground. Loop a towel over the arch of the lifted foot, and gently pull on the towel as you push against it with your foot. Push only to the point where your muscles contract. Stretch both legs.
Lie on your back and, with your feet flat on the ground, lift your hips up until your body forms a flat plane. Repeat this one ten times for 30 seconds each to stretch your quads and lower back.
Kneel on your knees (without resting back on your heels). Lean back with your body erect and your arms to the side. Hold for 15 seconds
Stand on one foot, with one hand on a wall for balance. Hold the other foot with the opposite hand and raise the heel of the lifted foot to the buttocks (or as close as comfortably possible), stretching your quadriceps. Keep your body upright throughout. Change legs and repeat.
Lie on your side with both legs bent in running position. Bring the bottom leg toward your chest and then bring the top one back toward your buttocks, so that the running position of your legs is exaggerated as possible. Hold for 30 seconds then flip sides and repeat.
Sit on the ground with your legs crossed. Lift your right leg and cross it over the left, which should remain bent. Hug the right leg to your chest and twist the trunk of your body to look over your right shoulder. Change legs and repeat (i.e. looking over your left shoulder).
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Hug your shins to your chest to stretch your hamstrings and lower back.
Seated, put the soles of your feet together. With your elbows on the inside of your knees, gradually lean forward and gently press your knees toward the ground.