This article has been
taken from the Runners World website
If you've been running
well and your muscles feel fine, stretching might seem like a waste of good
running time. But scheduling in some stretching could slash your chance of
getting injured, help you recover from existing injuries and could even boost
your muscles' performance on the track.
prevent sports injuries by increasing your range of movement and reducing the
tension in your muscles.
Every muscle in the
body has an opposing one that works against it – quads and hamstrings, for example.
Each of these muscles provides essential resistance to the other, and if one
becomes stronger or more flexible the imbalance could result in injury.
Hamstring tears, a common running injury, are caused by strong quads pulling
against weak, inflexible hamstrings.
Increasing your range
of movement means an increase in the distance your limbs can travel before they
incur damage – so your muscles work harder for you and your running.
You've probably heard
about the risks of stretching cold muscles, and might avoid stretching before
sessions. But it's actually best to stretch both before and after sessions,
with stretching sessions that achieve different things.
After warming up with a
brisk walk or jog, pop in a short stretching routine before you crack on with
your main training session. Taking time to stretch (gently) at this point will
help prevent injury. Start by stretching to 50-60 per cent of your range of
movement for 10-15 seconds, and increase this slowly as your flexibility
When you've finished
your session and cooled down, don't just stop. A few minutes' stretching will
reap huge benefits, preventing tight muscles, reducing the symptoms of Delayed
Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and helping your muscles recover by flushing out
waste and circulating fresh blood. This means you can get going again quicker,
and with less risk of causing strains to tired muscles.
Make sure you put
stretching at the heart of your routine, and pencil it in on a regular basis
when you're designing training schedules.
Types of stretching
There are two reasons
to stretch – for maintenance of muscles, and to develop muscles – and two chief
ways of stretching: static and dynamic.
Static stretches are performed without movement. Simply pick a position, hold
the stretch for a period of time and then slowly relax out of it. For example,
a static calf stretch is achieved by sitting down and touching your toes with
your leg straight out in front of you. Make sure you're stable and relax into
and out of the stretch – wobbling and jerky movements can cause injury.
Passive stretches are
very similar, but use a partner or piece of apparatus to stretch the muscles
further. For example, stretching the hamstrings by lying down with your leg in
the air, and a partner pushing against that leg. Passive stretches achieve a
greater range of movement are great for rehab. However, the bigger force and
longer stretch increases the risk of injury from stretching this way – so pick
your partner with care!
Dynamic stretching uses controlled bouncing or swinging to stretch the muscles.
Stretching the hamstrings and hip flexors by standing shoulder width apart and
swinging one leg backwards and forwards is a dynamic stretch. Using a stretch
to replicate the actions of a sport, or ‘muscle sequencing', comes in
especially handy for faster running and sprinting. If you're trying out a
dynamic stretch, make sure maintain control of the movement, and keep it slow
to avoid injury.
How to stretch safely
Before you get stuck in, take a few moments to
try a few gentle stretches to assess your flexibility. You don't want to dive
in over-enthusiastically and cause injuries.
Stretch safely with
1. If a muscle group doesn't feel 100 per cent, avoid stretching it.
If it's recently strained, only stretch it very gently.
2. Warm up – increasing the temperature of your muscles makes them
more supple and pliable so you'll get the most out of your stretches. It also
signals your body to supply your muscles with plenty of oxygen and nutrients.
3. Stretch each muscle's opposite number to avoid imbalances in
strength and flexibility – a recipe for injury.
4. Stretch for the right purpose at the right time – before exercise
to prevent injury; afterwards to aid recovery.
5. Stretch gently and slowly to relax muscles and avoid strains and
tears caused by fast, jerky movements.
6. Stretch only to the point of tension – you might ‘feel the burn',
but do not put yourself through pain.
7. Breathe easy. Lots of people accidentally hold their breath,
causing muscles to tense and making stretching harder. Breathing steadily
relaxes your muscles and supplies them with oxygen.