I’ve had a lot of questions recently about how (and what, and when, and why) to stretch. And the answer is: yes.
Seriously though, stretching increases your strength over a broader range of motion, as well as helping to increase blood flow, which in turn relieves soreness and helps you recover more quickly. You should always stretch when your muscles are warm, to avoid unnecessary tears or strain, and thus immediately after your run is the best time to get it done!
Here are a few of my favorites to give you a total body release, focusing on the muscle groups most important to runners:
Let’s start with the backside of your body. Because who doesn’t love to hang in this position for a bit after a long run? Start with your knees straight, and reach toward the floor, stretching all the way down your spine, and all the way down the back of your legs. Hold for 15-20 seconds, and then bend your knees slightly, feeling the stretch deepen into your glutes and hips.
Next, cross one foot over the other, so that your back leg is straight. This is called the IT band stretch, because it relieves that stubborn little band that can cause hip and knee issues for runners when it’s tight. Hold for 15-20 seconds on each side.
Next up are calves. You have two major muscles that propel you off the ground, and we want to make sure they both get released. Start with your back heel flat on the floor, your back knee straight, and lean forward over your front leg until you feel the stretch at the top of your calf region. Hold 15-20 seconds, and then bend that knee slightly, feeling the stretch move lower and toward your achilles and heel.
While you’re there, lets release your hip flexors. Those are the muscles at the front top of your thigh/hip that lift your leg forward. Extend your stance to a long stride and, sinking down through your hips, push your pelvis forward and chest tall. Hold 15-20 seconds on each side.
We’ll follow that up with adductors, or inner thighs, some of the muscles responsible for hip stability and length of your stride. I like this standing stretch because it releases the full range of the muscle group, from groin to knee. Keep one leg straight, and sit down toward your opposite side to feel this stretch. Hold 15-20 seconds each side.
One more before you get to sit down. Can’t forget your quads, the largest muscle group in your body. Bending at the knee, pull one foot behind you toward your hip and grasp. Allow your knee to relax toward the floor, and push your foot into your hand to deepen this stretch. Hold 15-20 seconds each side.
To the floor! Cobra stretch helps to relieve hip flexors and abdominals, both of which work hard on the run. Lay on your belly with legs extended. Push your pelvis toward the floor, and use your arms to push chest upward. Hold 15-20 seconds and breathe.
Abductors (outer thighs) and hips are up next. Cross one foot over your leg, and hug your knee in tight until you feel the stretch on your outer hip. These muscles are also responsible for hip stability and length of stride. Hold 15-20 seconds each side.
One more for your hamstrings, because they ARE your power house muscle group as a runner. You’ll want a towel, band, or yoga strap on this one to help you out. Keeping your hips and back flat on the floor, extend your knee and gently pull your whole leg toward your chest, feeling that stretch all the way from the back of your knee, through your hips and glutes. Hold 15-20 seconds each side.
I like to finish with two quick stretches to the postural muscles of your upper body, because they work hard too on the run! First, grasp hands together behind your back, and push your hands back and away, feeling the stretch across your chest, front of your shoulders, and front of your arms. Breathe and hold for 15-20 seconds. Then reverse: grasp hands together in the front, and push forward, stretching across your upper back, shoulders, and back side of your arms. Breathe and hold for 15-20 seconds.
You’ve got this. A little goes a long way, so set aside a few extra minutes at the end of your run and get it done. Your body will thank you!
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