How to stretch properly
The world of running seems to be split when it comes to the great stretching debate. So, should you be stretching before you run or is it yesterday’s news?
If you read enough articles about stretching you may find yourself twisted in knots as to whether you should be doing it or not. One school of thought suggests it offers no tangible benefit at all and can, in some cases, make you more prone to injury. While the other argument supports stretching as a vital tool to protect you from those nasty niggles and assist in recovery from a long, hard road run.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Stretching, when done properly, can lower the chances of an injury, but if it is not performed properly it can do the opposite. A well-executed stretching programme is one of the most important aspects of any training schedule. It can protect the body from the severity of the road by reducing muscle soreness and the risk of injury to muscles, joints and tendons – and it can improve your athletic performance.
One of the key things to remember is that if you stretch too quickly, the muscle can contract and increase tension, and so muscles should always be stretched slowly and the stretch should be held for approximately 30 seconds. This way, the muscle tension falls and the muscle can be stretched further. Another common mistake is to bounce when in a stretch. This can pull or tear the muscle you're trying to ease. Stretching should be avoided if you feel tightness in the muscle or if you feel any pain or discomfort.
Stretching should be performed both before and after your run. It can be all too easy to head straight back indoors, get showered and assume the horizontal position on the sofa after a hard session, but spending some time to rattle off some of these stretches after your run will help you feel much fresher for your next session.
Nine to try:
1. Standing quad stretch
Stand on one leg, using a wall or a bench to balance, grasp the top of the other foot and draw it towards your backside, squeezing your knees together. Done correctly, you should be feeling it across front of the thigh.
2. Quads and lower back stretch
Lie on your back and, with your feet flat on the ground, lift your hips up until your body forms a flat plane. Repeat this ten times for 30 seconds each to stretch your quads and lower back.
3. Hamstring & back stretch
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Hug your shins to your chest to stretch your hamstrings and lower back.
4. Standing hamstring stretch
Cross one leg in front of the other and put the heel of the front foot onto a step. Rest your hands on the thigh of the bent leg and flex the toes of the front one towards your face.
5. Back stretch
Grip your elbow with the opposite hand and gently push the elbow up and across your body until your hand reaches between your shoulder blades. Gently push on your elbow to guide your hand down your back as far as it will comfortably go, stretching your triceps and shoulders. Stretch both arms.
6. Hip & lower back stretch
Sit on the ground with your legs crossed. Lift your right leg and cross it over the left, which should remain bent. Hug the right leg to your chest and twist the trunk of your body to look over your right shoulder. Change legs and repeat.
7. Hip flexor stretch in a lunge position
Split your legs so one is in front of you and the other behind. Standing on the ball of the back foot come into a lunge position – you can bring your back knee down if necessary. Hold your hands on the hips as you stretch the front of the hip.
8. Calf stretch on step / Straight leg calf plus bent knee calf
There are two versions of this stretch; the first is with a straight leg, the second with a bend in the knee. Standing on a step, drop the heel of one foot down towards the ground keeping the leg straight. Hold and then perform stretch again this time with a bent knee.
9. Groin stretch
Seated, put the soles of your feet together. With your elbows on the inside of your knees, gradually lean forward and gently press your knees toward the ground.