In the last blog we discussed some of the theory about stretching and why it’s important and why you may not need to stretch as much as you think. Now I intend to try to give some practical advice on how to put that knowledge to practice. I know some people treat foam rolling as stretching since it can help range of motion; but because it facilitates a different physiological effect than traditional stretching so I won’t be addressing it here. That may be a discussion for another post if people are interested.
First of all let’s make sure we’re all on the same page with some stretching terminology. Static stretching is what most people think of when talking about stretching. This is when you go into a stretch and hold it for a given period of time, usually around 30-60 seconds. Dynamic stretching is when you go through a range of motion and don’t hold. I tend to approach static stretching as working on flexibility and long term mobility, and dynamic more as part of a warm up to help range of motion for short term benefit.
- Pre-Run (Part of Warm-up): I don’t recommend doing much stretching before most runs. For most runs the best thing to do is just start your run nice and easy, and ease into the run. For a point of reference, most Kenyan runners will start their runs 8 minutes per mile or slower and end their run sub-6 minutes per mile. It doesn’t need to be that extreme, but I would recommend starting a minute per mile slower for the first 5 minutes before you settle into your intended pace for the run.
There are some times when doing a little stretching isn’t a bad idea, if implemented correctly. When doing a harder workout and you need to be more warm and ready to go adding some dynamic stretching can help. Usually adding dynamic stretches can be a part of the drills you do normally. By adding dynamic stretches into your drills you can facilitate improved range of motion to achieve better running technique as well as “waking up” certain muscles to help them engage better improving efficiency.
Although I wouldn’t normally suggest much static stretching before runs, there is a bit of an exception. If there is some sort of injury going on that is being caused by a muscle tightness somewhere, it may be advised to add a little bit of stretching (static or dynamic) before your run. An example here would be if you have some lower back pain caused by tight quadriceps, you may need to do some static stretching of the quads. Because of how the two affect your muscles, static stretching may be better for longer runs and dynamic may be better for shorter. But my best recommendation would be to go ahead and try both and see what works better for you.
- Post Run (Injury Prevention): It is a good idea to take a few minutes, a few days a week, or even better, after your runs to work on general flexibility. Here is a good time to do some static stretching. You should go through and work on major muscle groups that are worked while running; holding each stretch for about 30 seconds. I have most of my runners do a short yoga routine after each of their runs. This includes exercises that target: hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteus group, hip flexors, abdominals, and calves. Doing a quick Google search can find you plenty of stretches to achieve this. And then beyond a normal routine, you should also spend a little extra time on anything that seems particularly tight or bothering you that day. Side Note: It is really easy to add in some basic core exercises such as planks or bridges to most stretching routines. If you look into some yoga moves to work on your flexibility, many of them double as strengthening exercises as well.