The desire to run faster and further is natural, but often rather than focusing on what it takes for one’s body – like strengthening muscles or increasing endurance- they instead look at how quickly runners can turn themselves into ultra-marathoners. However, they sometimes skimp on stretching and other essential elements of a balanced fitness program.
If that sounds like you, your habits could be holding you back. Consistent stretching will enhance your performance and lower your risk of injury. It’s also a constructive way to relax and deal with stress.
Find out what you need to know about training for greater flexibility and range of motion. Read this quick guide on stretching for runners.
Body Parts That Runners Need to Stretch
Tight hamstrings are a major issue for runners, but there are many more factors at work. You need to stretch the rest of your body, as well as your legs.
Keep these tips in mind:
- Care for your thighs. Running can make your hamstrings tight and uncomfortable because the quadriceps on the front of your thighs are often much stronger than the hamstrings on the back of your thighs. If you want to keep this muscular imbalance from getting out of control, then it is important that both stretching and strength training are done.
- Loosen your hips. If you push yourself too hard, you may feel pressure on the outside of your thigh where your iliotibial band (ITB) runs from your hip to your shin. It’s also important for runners to pay attention to the groin area near the front of the hip.
- Stretch your calves. Prevent cramps by doing exercises for your lower legs too. Your calves have to work very hard to push the weight of each foot when you run.
- Pamper your feet. Supportive shoes will protect your feet but stretches are fundamental too. To make things easier, you can do many of these movements sitting down, maybe while you’re watching TV or talking on the phone.
- Remember your upper body. While your legs are doing most of the work when you’re running, your upper body matters too. Your upper and lower back absorb pressure, especially if you run on hard surfaces. Maintaining good posture and moving with less effort are two major benefits that come from being limber.
Stretching Techniques Runners Need to Use
Keep your muscles flexible and strong. When you’re out there running, do yourself a favor and don’t forget about the little things. A good pair of shoes can make all the difference in how well we age.
Try these techniques:
- Respect your limits. It’s okay to feel a gentle pull while stretching, but back off if you experience any sharp sensations. Be patient and stay close to your comfort zone.
- Use other methods. If you already have injuries or very tight muscles, you may need to put off stretching for a while. Icing and massaging the area could help you recover faster.
- Warm-up. Save static stretches for after your run when your muscles are warm. Before running, focus on gentle movements to get your blood flowing, like walking for a few minutes.
- Cooldown. Take time to stretch for about 10 minutes before you hang up your running shoes. Consistent practice will pay off.
- Follow your breath. Coordinate your breath with your movements. Inhale as you tense each muscle before stretching. Exhale as you relax and lengthen.
- Move smoothly. Bouncing makes your muscles tighten and increases the risk of tears. Proceed at a slow and steady pace. Stay still as you hold stretches for about 30 seconds.
- Add resistance. Working against an opposing force can help you get greater results. Use your hand or a strap to gently press your body part in the other direction while you’re stretching.
- See your doctor. Discuss your individual questions with your physician, especially if you have underlying medical conditions. They may refer you to a physical therapist who can teach you stretching exercises customized for your needs.
Stay safe and reach your fitness goals by adding regular stretching sessions to your fitness program. The feel-good factor of stretching is hard to beat. Not only will it help you perform better, but also relax and deal with stress – all in one session.
Whenever you run, your body is constantly in motion. You’ll be less likely to have days off because of injury and running will feel more comfortable with the increased range of motion.