Exercise Tips: Streching For Runners

Stretching is a key part of any running program because it helps you run better and prevent painful injuries.

If you are beginning a running routine, you also need to begin a stretching program. Some runners may say they do not have time to stretch, but that is not true. Stretching may take only about five or ten minutes to complete, but its effects are much longer lasting. Increasing flexibility through stretching also will increase your ability to run farther and faster.

Stretching is most effective when done several times a week. Prior to your workout, you can do some gentle stretches to let your body know it is time to get going, but be careful: stretching a cold muscle can result in tearing or pulling. The last thing you want to do is create and injury that will keep you from running. Experts agree that warm muscles stretch more easily than cold muscles. Most sources encourage runners to walk or job for 10-15 minutes prior to stretching. Then, take 5 -10 minutes to do some gentle stretching before moving into the bulk of your workout.

After your workout is the most beneficial time to stretch. The majority of experts agree that stretching after a running workout will help reduce tight muscles and increase flexibility. After a run, your muscles will be warm and stretching will not only feel easier, but will be more beneficial and less likely to result in muscular injuries. Stretching after a run can promote healing in the muscles and reduce lactic acid build-up - almost like a mini-massage that you can give yourself for free.

Runners should stretch all the major muscle groups of the legs including: the calves, thighs, shins, hips, groin, and buttocks. Hamstrings and Achilles tendons also need attention during stretching routines.If you go to the park or any place you often see runners, you can watch and see most of the common, basic stretches people use to loosen up their muscles. Additionally, there are many books and Web sites that can direct you to stretches that target each of these areas. Often if one type of stretch is not loosening a muscle, you can find a variation that will help.Another place to look for help in stretching for running workouts is at the gym - from a class instructor, a personal trainer, or even other runners who may workout at your gym. Finally, many runners these days are turning to yoga to increase flexibility.

There are a few dos and don'ts for stretching that all runners should follow in order to avoid injury and increase running performance:

- Do not stretch cold muscles - as previously noted, this could result in tearing or pulling the muscles. Instead, do only very slight stretches until you have warmed up for at least 10-15 minutes.

Do not bounce - again, bouncing could result in a torn or pulled muscle. Instead, hold each stretch for 30 - 40 seconds. In doing this, you may note that the muscle begins to relax and you can go further into the stretch. It is important, however, not "over-stretch" to the point where you feel muscle resistance or pain.

- If you feel discomfort or pain, stop. - If you stretch to the point of feeling pain, you could be hurting your muscle and be causing an injury that will keep you from running.

- Do stretch slowly - Move into all stretches in a slow and controlled manner. If you stretch too quickly, the muscle will contract and you will find yourself to be unable to relax the muscle and increase flexibility.

- Do stretch, but do not stretch too much - Remember to stretch, but do not forget that your reason for stretching is to get on the road or trail for your run! Runners need to stretch, but do not let this part of your workout become your entire workout.

Some basic leg stretches for runners:

- Keeping knees slightly bend, fold the torso forward and reach for your toes. Hold for 30-40 seconds. This will stretch the calves and hamstrings.

- Stand facing a chair or ledge. Place your right foot onto the chair. Keeping your leg straight, lean slightly forward until you feel a stretch all the way down the back of your leg. Hold for 30-40 seconds. Repeat on other side. This stretches the hamstrings and calf muscles.

- Place your hand on the back of a chair or a wall. Bend your right leg behind you and catch your right foot in your hand. Pull the right foot toward your buttocks. Hold for 30 - 40 seconds. This will give you a good stretch on your quadriceps.

- Begin on all fours. Place your right foot between your hands. Put your left foot behind you so that you are up on the ball of your foot. This gives you a good calf stretch. Hold for 30-40 seconds, and then switch sides.

- Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet touching in front of you. Wrap your hands around your feet and gently press your elbows onto your thighs, allowing the thighs and knees to release closer to the floor. Hold for 30-40 seconds. This stretches the inner thighs and groin muscles.

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