9 running stretches you must do before and after and running
Flexibility boosts performance, improves posture and reduces the chances of getting an injury. Gerald Smith investigates how and why you should stretch.
Gerald Smith from Running Coach London is a specialist in core strength, athletic performance and weight loss. He has a bachelor’s degree in Exercise, Nutrition & Health; he is an ASA qualified swimming teacher and has an international qualification in strength and conditioning. Visit him at www.runningcoachlondon.co.uk for information on weight loss, core strength and boosting performance.
Finding time to train can often be difficult. With the precious time we do have we want to turn up, run and go.
However, you are missing a key part of your work out, if all you do is run. Flexibility training has been shown to:
- improve posture
- range of motion in your hip
- prevent injuries
- aid in recovery of lactic acid
- prepare the body for exercise
There are research papers that question the value of stretching for injury prevention, but there are also some universally accepted facts on what type of stretch to perform before and after running.
Although stretching may add extra time to your work out there are ways that you can maintain the balance in your muscles throughout the day, which could save you adding time onto your work out.
What could happen if I don’t stretch?
Flexibility, performance and posture are all interlinked. Posture can be altered by your day to day activities.
For example, if you work at a desk all day you may find that you get lower back pain from sitting down on your bum all day.
This can cause your:
- gluteus muscles to switch off and become weak
- your hip flexor muscles to become tight
- hamstring muscles lose range of motion and become tight
- your abdominal muscles to become weak
This type of muscle imbalance can lead to a type of bad posture known as hyper lordosis and can lead to lower back during your runs.
Sitting at a desk can also cause poking head posture.
Poking head posture is caused when your head pokes forward. Poking head posture is caused by shortening of the muscles in the:
- intercostals (breathing muscles)
- rectus abdominus
- latissimus dorsi
These muscles are at the front of the body and they pull the head forward. When this posture is developed it can be bad for your running form for a few key reasons.
Poking head posture. This picture shows the alignment of your ear in relation to the centre of your shoulder. The second picture is ideal alignment; the ear is perfectly in line with the centre of the shoulder. In the first picture the ear is 3-4 inches forward causing strain on the muscles of the neck and upper back, and restricting shoulder movement.
The first is that it reduces the blood supply to the brain, which affects your concentration.
Katherine Watkins who is a physiotherapist (www.watkinsphysio.com) also believes that your breathing will be affected due to the impingement of key nerves supplying the diaphragm.
This is because the tightness in your chest brings your shoulders forward, as well as the head and the nerves that run through this region to your brain are restricted.
The affect poking head posture has on your breathing is particularly significant because it causes the breathing muscles attached to your rib cage to become shortened and tight.
These muscles are called the intercostals. Katherine mentions that when your intercostals or breathing muscles are tight, your breathing is restricted during your runs.
How to stretch before your session
Over the years athletes have migrated to using dynamic stretches in their warm ups in favour of performing static stretches.
This is because many studies have shown that static stretching as part of your warm up has no affect on performance.
Dynamic stretching is when you take the joint through a large range of motion quickly like when you perform a high kick.
The large range of motion places a stretch on the muscle and because it’s performed at the speeds similar to how quickly you move during running it acts as a more functional stretch compared to static stretching.
The research into dynamic stretching shows that it is important for speed events, but dynamic stretching is still functional for distance runners.
Should I stretch at the end of my work out?
Although dynamic stretching is the best type of stretch to perform at the start of the work out.
Static stretching is better for changing posture and developing range of motion, so it should be performed at the end of a work out.
Static stretching is when you take a muscle to its full range of motion and hold for 15 seconds to over one minute.
An example of this is bending over to touch your toes, and as you feel that burn in the back of your legs you hold that position.
Key muscles to stretch
To prevent poking head posture you should stretch the:
- latisimus dorsi
You will have a greater range of motion, and improved posture as by stretching these muscles.
- The hip flexors
- IT band
These muscles are also important to running performance.
If you sit at work all day you are likely to get short, tight hip flexors which are going to place more strain on your lower back, because you’re hip flexor connects from the top of your leg into your lower back.
I haven’t got time to stretch, how can I fit this into my day?
“If you can concentrate on your posture continually during the day, you will go a long way to maximising the benefits of all your core and flexibility training” says Katherine Watkins.
She also says that “Performing pelvic tilts at work will help improve your core stability”.
Shoulder setting exercises are also great to address shoulder strength and the imbalances caused by sitting at a desk.
If this is combined with the simple stretch routine I have sourced in this article, you should greatly reduce the risk of injury and see an increase in your performance.
This isn’t a stretch, but its something that can be performed while seated at work to retain the balance between your chest and back.
Keep your head back, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull them downwards. Perform this as often as you can during the day.
Here are four dynamic running stretches to do before running
1) Dynamic hamstring stretch
2) Windmill hamstring stretch
3) Running dynamic hip abductor and adductor stretch
4) Dynamic hip flexor stretch
5 running stretches for your cool down
5) Warrior one
6) Revolving triangle
8) Pigeon pose
9) Psoas stretch
I hope these stretches will help you with your running. Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below. If you have any questions or topics you would like me to cover feel free to drop me an Email.