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Stretching is an important component of any fitness routine. Although it can be tempting to finish a run and skip the stretches, you know better. Stretching has many benefits, including increased range of motion and improved muscular coordination. Research shows that flexible muscles also recover more quickly because they are more receptive to glycogen replacement, which will fuel your next run. Ever better: Your flexibility routine doesn't have to take a lot of time. Just five or 10 minutes is all you need at the end of your workout.
While any full-body stretching routine will do, there are some specific stretches that can help improve your running performance and prevent the aches and pains runners commonly experience.
Because running, while good for you in many ways, does put stress on your body—especially the lower limbs and joints—the following stretches target the muscles runners use most. Follow the short routine below if time is lacking, or ideally, add these running-specific stretches to your current flexibility training program, which should also include some general upper body and core stretches, too.
General Stretching Guidelines for Runners
The most important thing to remember is to only stretch warm muscles. SparkPeople's fitness experts recommend stretching after you workout; this is when your muscles are warmest and your joints are lubricated, and therefore primed to stretch. While it's OK to stretch after your warm-up (but before your run), doing so might actually interrupt or negate the warm-up process, which is more likely to result in injury or problems. Unless specified, breathe deeply and hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds. Then repeat on opposite side (if applicable). Perform each stretch once or twice, stretching only to the edge of discomfort—between a 5 and 7 on a scale of 1-10.
Runners are notorious for tight hamstrings that can cause lower back problems and lead to pulled muscles. Tight hamstrings also limit your range of motion, which can affect running stride, form and speed. To improve hamstring flexibility, try this lying hamstring stretch, which keeps the spine neutral whereas basic toe touches (forward bends) do not, thereby reducing risk of low back pain.
Lie on your back with your legs extended and your back straight. Keep your hips level and your lower back down on the floor. Bend your right knee towards your chest, keeping your left leg extended on the floor.Slowly straighten your right knee, grabbing the back of your leg with both hands. Pull your leg towards your gently while keeping both hips on the floor. Breathe deeply and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side. To reduce the intensity of this stretch, bend the knee of the stretching leg.
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is a certified personal trainer, certified health coach and advanced health & fitness specialist. See all of Jen's articles.
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