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Flexible calf muscles can improve your ability to increase the length of your stride, which results in increased speed. Loose calf muscles also take some of the burden away from your shins as you bring your trailing leg forward when running, helping prevent shin pain or shin splints. This basic calf stretch is an easy one to incorporate. Check out this video for more calf stretching demonstrations.
Stand facing a wall, about 12 inches away from it. Extend your arms in front of your shoulders to place your hands flat on the wall, keeping the elbows bent. Keeping both feet flat, step or slide your left foot (pictured) back, lengthening your left leg and straightening your arms. You should feel the stretch in the calf of the back (straight) leg. The more your lower your heel to the floor, and the farther you slide your straight leg behind you, the deeper you will feel this stretch. Breathe deeply and hold for 10-30 seconds. Switch sides.
Iliotibial (IT) Band Stretch
The illiotibial band is part of a muscle that runs along the outside of the knee and can create pain when it starts to rub on the kneecap. This is typically an overuse injury (trying to do too much too soon or not giving your body adequate time for rest and recovery). Stretches that target the IT band, like the example below, can reduce pain and prevent future knee problems.
With the left side of your body next to a wall, stand tall with your hand on the wall and your body an arm"s length away from the wall. Cross your right leg (leg farthest from the wall) in front of your left leg (leg closest to the wall) and place your opposite hand on your hip, shoulders relaxed, feet flat on the floor. Breathe slowly and steadily as you push your left hip toward the wall, bending your left elbow. Keep the foot closest to the wall flat on the floor, both legs straight, and your back straight (no leaning forward or back). Hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds. Switch sides.
Try this routine at the end of each run (after cooling down) and see if it makes a difference in your running performance and progress. It doesn't take long to notice improvements in flexibility, so take the time to stretch and your running legs will thank you for it!
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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