Stretching for runners
There is a plethora of conflicting information on stretching. Whilst general stretching is intuitive to most people, you should know why, when and how to stretch to get better results.
Even before stretching I recommend that runners consider 5 minutes of gentle whole body aerobic exercise (eg. walking, stationary bike riding, star jumps) as a way to warm the body before stretching.
The best dynamic stretches for runners pre-run are:
Leg swings: Hold onto a sturdy, stationary object, stand on one leg and swing the other leg front and back. Repeat x 20. Then swing the same leg side to side. Repeat x 20. Each swing should build until your leg is close to its full range of motion.
Walking lunges: Take a large step forward with your right leg and then bend your right knee until you thigh is parallel to the floor and you knee is over your ankle. Push back upwards and draw your left foot even with your right and step forward with the left. Keep walking lunges fluid with a focus on correct form. Repeat x 10 on each leg.
Ankle pop: With knees slightly bent, lightly bounce up and down on your toes
High knees: whilst running on the spot bring your knees up as high as possible, above your waistline is most effective.
Butt kicks: Run in place, but kick your legs backward, bending your knees to kick your bottom.
After your run, you should aim to complete stretches that target the major leg muscles to maintain flexibility and a healthy range of motion.
I recommend the following static stretches for 30 seconds for runners post-run:
Standing quadriceps stretch: Lift your left leg off the ground pulling your left heel with your left hand up to your bottom. Keep both knees aligned and hold onto a sturdy object with your opposite arm if you cannot balance. Repeat with the other leg.
Kneeling hip flexor and hamstring: From a kneeling position, plant your right foot on the ground in front of you so that your leg is bent 90 degrees with the knee and ankle aligned. Keeping your back straight, press forward into your right hip while keeping your left knee pressed into the ground, stretching your left hip and hamstring. Squeeze and contract the gluteal muscles of your left hip to increase the stretch in your hip flexors.
Standing calf: Stand facing a wall placing your hands on the wall at chest level. Place the ball of your right foot against the wall with you heel touching the floor. Gently lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in your calf. Keep your leg straight. Repeat on other leg.
7 tips to effective stretching
1. Don’t bounce
2. Don’t push for pain
3. Hold a neutral posture
4. Stretch both sides equally
5. Be careful with injuries
7. Don’t rush your stretches