If you are reading this blog, you already understand that running can improve your health in various ways. Maybe you are looking to strengthen your cardiovascular system. Maybe you want to burn off those weekend extravaganzas. Maybe you are training for your next race. Whatever the case may be, to some degree, you enjoy lacing up your shoes and hitting the pavement! Or dirt . . . or grass . . . or turf . . . or treadmill . . . or elliptical . . . or sidewalk . . . or . . . (you get the point!)
Nevertheless, with all of the benefits from running, we must understand that it is a repetitive motion that can cause tightness and soreness throughout the body. So what can we do to best avoid the post-run soreness?
Here at CHARGE, we encourage pushing boundaries and striving for improvement, but we are also advocates for quality movement, recovery, and healing.
Why You Should Care About Stretching.
Yes, imaginary person who is asking that question, it is. . .
Our bodies are extremely complex moving objects. The bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons all work together in order for us to operate in various patterns that we control with our nervous system. The joints are the points at which this movement occurs. Think of these like hinges on a door (although many joints allow for much more movement, like rotation, such as the shoulders or hips).
When the joints or “hinges” get stiff, it’s much harder to produce movement. We then begin to compensate with other parts of our bodies because of the lack of range of motion, or tightness, and that can eventually cause pain or injury.
Take your calves for example. If your calves are tight, it becomes harder to produce movement at the ankle joint. When movement is required (for example: walking, running, or squatting) you may start to compensate with your knees or hips. If you are compensating in the knees or hips, your spine could also be affected. And if the spine is affected, the shoulders and neck will probably follow suit.
So you see, although the joints can work independently of one another, the body is a connected mechanism in which one thing impacts everything else.
Alright back to stretching. . .
If we want to avoid pain and injury so that we can have long-term health and fitness, (and who doesn't want this?) we MUST be certain that we have efficient mobility at all the joints.
So yes, imaginary person who is asked that question, stretching really is that important.
How Often Should You Stretch?
The quickest answer to the above question is, “It depends.”
Are you a particularly tight individual or are you one of my flexible friends?
This is something that you have to answer for yourself. There are a few simple test. Can you touch your toes without bending your knees? Can you squat to a full depth without hip, knee, or back compensation? Can you touch the top and bottom of your shoulder blade with the corresponding hand?
Don’t worry if you can’t do all of the above tasks. You are not alone.
Also, do you feel tight in certain areas of the body? Do you wake up with tight hamstrings, glutes, calves, or hips? Chances are, if you think you are tight, you are tight.
OK so for my tight friends, here’s a general suggestion: Stretch A LOT.
What’s A LOT?
OK it’s not as bad as it sounds. I would try for 10-15 minutes a day 3-5 days a week. Do this on the days that you workout AND on your off days. You’ll get quality movement in your workouts (see below), and you’ll also recover and heal faster.
Should You Stretch Before or After Your Workout?
Easy answer. . .Both.
But if I were to pick one over the other, I would say before. Why? Because if we are about to challenge our bodies in different patterns, (running, for example) we want to make sure all the joints are ready to go, right?
You wouldn’t drive your car through an obstacle course if you hadn’t checked that all the mechanics were moving properly. Similarly, we need be certain that our muscles and joints are moving properly before presenting them with physical challenges.
Nevertheless, I love a good stretch after my workouts. It’s a great way to reset the muscles and joints after you put strain on them.
So stretch before, and if you can, after.
Here are 4 Stretches to do before and/or after every run!
For all of the drills below, don’t worry if you do not have as much range of motion as is shown in the videos. Work with the mobility that you have, and keep at it!
Also, I’m an ex-dancer, so I probably have a little toooo much mobility. ;)
This one is perfect for those of you with tight hamstrings. Keep your toes flexed towards your nose the entire time to tap into an extra calf stretch!
Do 8-10 on each side.
Lateral Leg Rocking
Get those inner thighs stretched out! Line up the kneeling knee under the hip and the hands under the shoulders. You should feel a stretch in the groin and hamstring area.
Do 6-8 on each side.
Hip Flexor Reach Over
Those hips get tight! Make sure your hip flexor is being stretched by squeezing the butt cheek of the knee that is down. You should feel a nice pull in the front of the kneeling hip and all along the side of that torso as you reach over.
Do 6-8 on each side.
Lunge Twist & Reach
This can be done with the back knee on or off the ground. Whichever feels better for you!
Do 4-6 on each side.
The above stretches are just the beginning. There are hundreds of different ways to mobilize your joints, but the important thing is that you are mobilizing. Remember, push your boundaries and train hard, but be certain that all the mechanics are moving properly.