The What, Why, When and How of Post Run Stretching
Firstly…We should not static stretch before running:
- Rested muscle tissue is cold, less pliable and has less oxygenated blood running through it.
- Inhibits nerve contraction so is not going to fire as quickly and tell muscle to contract and perform.
- Increases risk of tearing muscle fibres resulting in injury.
A functional warm up, steadily raising the heart rate, increasing oxygenated blood to the muscles, enhancing the range of motion in joints and releasing exercise ready hormones is more important. That’s why we have introduced a group warm up on club nights.
Why we should stretch after running
- Immediate benefit - Helps to return contracted muscles back to pre-exercise length making them more permeable to the removal of waste products reducing muscle soreness and stiffness.
- Maintain flexibility and range of motion.
- Over time will make marginal gains in increasing soft tissue length, flexibility and suppleness.
But having the longest muscles is not necessarily a benefit. Imagine that your muscle was longer than the distance between its two fixing points… it would be like a saggy elastic band. When you want the muscle to contract to make the limb move, there would be too much slack in it preventing it from being effective. Therefore we are trying to achieve a happy medium between tight muscles and muscles that are too long – btw, it rarely happens, but you get my drift!
How long to hold a stretch for?
Stretches should be held for a minimum of 20 seconds preferably 30 or more.
As soon as you stretch a muscle a signal goes to the spinal cord indicating a change in muscle length. The response is a signal back to the muscle to contract and shorten back to the length it previously was, resulting in the stretch being resisted. This is called Stretch reflex. By holding the stretch for over 20 seconds, the stretch reflex can be over ridden, enabling the muscle stretch to be effective.
How should it feel?
When stretching, you should have a slight feeling if discomfort in the muscle, but should not be painful or sharp; if so back it off gently. We need to get to the slightly uncomfortable point as that is where physiological change takes place. Ease into a stretch, don’t rush it, force it or bounce it.
What to stretch and how
Firstly, ensure that high intensity cardio sessions are followed by at least 10 minutes of low intensity exercise. This will enable continued blood flow to remove metabolic waste products and reduce the risk of muscle soreness the following day. So don’t just stop running and stretch, jog slowly then reduce to a walk before commencing stretching.
Calves - Gastrocnemius & Soleus
- Stand about a pace way from a tall solid object (wall, needs to be a bit taller than you), both feet parallel and pointing towards the wall.
- Step in towards the wall with one foot, leaning into the wall closely with your hands and forearms on the wall, head up looking straight ahead.
- Keeping the back foot back with the heel on the ground, allow the front leg to relax (virtually no weight on it), create a straight line with your body from heel to top of your head.
- Hold for 30 seconds, adjust stretch tighter by allowing your shoulders to be closer to the wall.
Move into the Soleus stretch
- Keeping the feet exactly where they were, push your body to a more upright position by taking the forearms off the wall, so you’re just leaning in on your hands.
- Bend the knee of the back leg forcing it towards the join of the ground and the wall.
- Allow your non stretching leg to take up a little of your weight if the pressure on your standing knee is uncomfortable.
Quad Stretch Standing (Non cheating)
- Standing close to a support sideways on, clasp the ankle (across the ankle joint, not the top of the foot) of your leg furthest from the support bringing your heel towards your bum.
- Do not pull the stretch yet. Touch the support to balance if needed.
- Bend the standing leg slightly at the knee.
- Keep the knee of your stretching leg close to the standing leg knee.
- Keep your body tall and straight, no twisting.
- Perform a pelvic thrust, imagine an abdominal crunchie while standing, and maintain this during the stretch.
- Now pull back on the ankle creating a stretch down the quadriceps (thigh muscles).
The reason for the crunchie is to maintain the position of the pelvis in relation to the lower spine; otherwise you would just be tilting the pelvis forward during the stretch making it less effective and placing pressure into the lower back.
Hamstrings - Standing
- Take a short step forward (no more than a foot length between toe of back foot an heel of front foot).
- Settle back pushing your bum backwards by bending your back leg at the knee, keep the front leg straight. Keep both feet pointing in the same direction and pelvis to the front, no twisting.
- Place both hands clasped over the bent knee.
- Try to drive the heel of the straight leg into the ground and raise your rear as though you have a tail and someone is lifting it.
- Hold for 20 seconds.
- Without moving anything else, raise the toes of the front foot while keep on driving the heel into the ground and keep raising your tail.
- Hold for a further 20 seconds.
Why should we not place your foot on a raised object like a wall or fence? Because we are different heights with different tension in our muscles, so the same height object does not suit us all. This stretch is bespoke to you and your needs.
The most often overlooked group of muscles by runners. Vital to maintain pelvic neutrality, reducing the risk of lower back pain and preventing tight hamstrings.
- Take a long lunge forward with one leg, allowing the back leg knee to rest on the ground with toes bent. You might like a pad for your back knee if you’re not on soft ground.
- Keeping your torso upright, activate your glutes, push your front knee forward forcing your groin towards your front heel.
- Keep the pelvis facing forward, do not allow it to twist.
- Raise your arm on the back leg side, as high as you can.
- Slightly reach your raised arm over your head bringing your torso with it and now take it slightly backwards.
- Don’t forget to maintain the push of the groin towards the front heel, so for the duration of the stretch remind yourself, ‘groin forward, arm over, arm back, repeat…’
- Hold for at least 30seconds, it’s a very important group of muscles that we are stretching, some of which are very deep internally.
If you struggle to maintain your balance during this stretch, perform it with a support to the side of the outstretched front foot.
Three very important muscles for the runner which should be developed for strength and maintained for flexibility. Gluteus Minimis, Medius and Maximus. They contribute to stabilisation of the pelvis, hip and knee joints; flexion, extension, internal and external rotation of the femur; and abduction of the hip – pretty important muscle group!
Glutes – Seated Twist
- Sitting on the ground legs out in front.
- Bend the knee of one leg towards your chest and place its foot outside of the opposite leg.
- Take the arm opposite to the bent leg across your chest and place the elbow against the outside of the bent knee.
- Use the other hand for support by placing it on the ground to the side and behind you.
- Push with the elbow forcing the bent knee towards its opposite side, creating a stretch in its gluteal muscles.
ITB - Standing
As the ITB is connective tissue it is not a muscle and cannot be stretched very much at all, however relief can be felt if the connected muscles are stretched.
- In a standing position, cross the leg to be stretched behind the other leg.
- Lean your body towards the side not being stretched.
- Raise the arm of the side being stretched over your head and create a whole body curve from foot to raised hand.
- Don’t allow the body to bend forward at the waist. Imagine your body is sandwiched between two panes of glass and you can only bend sideways.
- Hold for 20 seconds or more.
Here endeth the stretching lesson. If anyone has any questions about stretching or need guidance when we are back together at the club, please do ask.
There are of course many other stretches that can be done, so I shall cover some more of them in the coming weeks.