Stretching is perhaps the most vital element of your core training as a runner. Stretching does more than reduce muscle soreness and loosen you up for the next workout; it also improves muscle strength and recovery by up to 30%. If you are like me, at some point during your training you could be caught in some awkward positions at the office copy machine or in the line at the grocery store. I can recall working behind my desk in my fourth grade classroom (I’m an educator by trade) doing calf and quad stretches when I hit my peak mileage while training for my half and full marathon races. As it turns out, this had more benefits to my running regimen than I was aware of at the time as a newbie runner.
It is important to remember that not all stretches are created equal. There are some that are far more beneficial for runners than others. The best stretches, in my opinion, come from practicing yoga on a regular (if not daily) basis. Yoga encourages proper form and optimal oxygen flow throughout the body to adequately support each and every muscle fiber that is worked during your distance or speed training. Local classes can be found almost anywhere, along with DVDs or online programs. The top running gurus in the field also recommend yoga, and it is practiced by many an elite athlete.
If yoga isn’t your thing, or you feel somewhat intimidated by the pretzel like formations pictured on yoga sites, don’t worry. There are other options available. Wall pushups and hamstring stretches can be just as beneficial as long as they target the muscles used during your workouts. Wall pushups target the back, hips, hamstrings and calves and can be done anywhere. Stand with your legs together arms distance from a wall, and push against it by bending at the waist, keeping legs straight until you feel the pull throughout these regions. Hold each stretch for as long as possible, ideally for a full minute. Hamstring stretches can be done by lying on the floor and extending one leg at a time into the air with a slight bend in the knee until the hamstring is targeted. While quads and calves take the brunt of the pounding during a run, the hamstrings pull their weight as well. They must be stretched and worked as much as the other muscles in the legs.
Make sure you remember that not all muscles used on a run are in the legs. Running is a total body workout. You must stretch your back, torso and arms along with your legs. Stretch your abs by lying face down on the floor, toes pointed downward and pushing up on your arms while arching your back. Hold the position for a count of 30 if possible. Stretch arms by raising them above the head and grabbing an elbow to target the triceps and back muscles. Repeat by doing the same stretch, but with arms in front of you instead of overhead for a deeper back stretch.
To find additional tips for pre and post run workouts, check out the articles available at Runnersgoal.com.