There are six common running injuries, and one of the most common treatments prescribed for most of them — stretching! So this week, I decided to answer a question I received from a participant at one of my marathon workshops I recently conducted.
Do you recommend static or dynamic stretching?
To answer this question, I turned to Jill Bruyere, marathoner, fitness professional and author of Run With Jill. Jill is a personal trainer, running coach and motivational speaker who resides in Seattle, Washington. I am very grateful for her contribution, as well as her informative advice offered each day via her blog.
Can you explain some of the benefits of stretching?
Stretching is one of the most important things you can do to increase the range of motion in your joints. As you age, your muscles tighten and range of motion in the joints can be minimized. This can hinder running performance and even hinder day-to-day, normal motions. Stretching on a regular basis, can help lengthen your muscles. The benefits of stretching include:
- Reduced muscle tension
- Increased range of movement in the joints
- Enhanced muscular coordination
- Increased circulation of the blood to various parts of the body
- Injury prevention
For me personally, I experienced a hamstring strain a few years back and it was due to a tight muscle. I now spend at least 10 minutes post-run stretching my muscles. It has made a huge difference and my injury has not returned.
Do you advocate stretching before a fitness activity or after?
Jill: I advocate stretching post activity. The reason to stretch after and not before is because after activity you have blood flowing to the muscles which allows for a safe stretch. The muscles will be warm and therefore able to stretch further without risk of injury. However, there are benefits to pre-run stretching because it increases blood flow to the the muscles. Be sure to warm-up jog for at least 5 minutes, then begin a stretching routine before heading out on your scheduled run. After running, stretching helps to remove lactic acid from the muscle, which in turn reduces muscle soreness and promotes better flexibility. Furthermore, post-exercise stretching can also aid in workout recovery, decrease muscles soreness, and ensure your muscles and tendons are in good working order. The more conditioned your muscles and tendons are, the better they can handles the rigors of running and the less likely they’ll become injured. So, to answer the question, you can stretch both before and after running. Just be sure you spend a few minutes jogging before you stretch so the muscles are warm.
What is the difference between dynamic and static stretching?
Dynamic stretching: Dynamic stretching uses speed of movement, momentum and active muscular effort to bring about a stretch. Arms circles, exaggerating a kicking action and walking lunges are examples of dynamic stretches. A walking lunge dynamically stretches the hip flexors by emphasizing hip extension and can reduce muscle tightness around the hip joint necessary for competition. Dynamic stretching is useful before running as it warms the body and helps to reduce muscle tightness.
Static stretching involves reaching forward to a point of tension and holding the stretch. Bending over and holding a toe touch stretch for 30 seconds or longer is an example of a static stretch. You will read lots of articles on the pro’s and con’s of static stretching before activity. When you hold a static stretch you are lengthening the muscle. And, you really aren’t warming up the muscle this way. When a muscle is lengthened that means it will take a longer time for it to shorten. In sprinting activity, it is desired to have the muscle in a shorter length so it can get to higher speed quicker. Therefore, this is why you read why static stretching should not be performed before activity. However, this is probably only relevant to sprinters and competitive athletes. Those who are just going out for a run are probably not putting themselves at risk of injury if static stretching is done beforehand. Still, I would recommend going with the dynamic stretching for warm-up and static stretching for cool-down.
Which type of stretching do you recommend for runners?
Warm-up stretching: Walking lunges are great for loosening up the hips, improving leg drive and strengthening the butt and hamstrings. Assume a lunge position and step forward into another lunge. Keep your chest up, look straight ahead. Walk forward 20 steps.
Leg swings: Flexion/Extension. Stand sideways onto the wall, weight on your left leg and your right hand on the wall for balance. Swing your right leg forward and backward 10 to 12 repetitions on each leg.
High knees. 20 yards of high knee running. Be sure to drive the knees up high and towards the chest.
Butt kickers: 20 yards of driving the heels of your feet towards your bottom. Ideally, you want to have your heel touches your buttocks. But don’t force it.
Cool-down stretches: Hamstring Stretch: Lie on your back, keeping the back flat and your eyes focused upward. Grasp the back of one thigh with both your hands and pull that thigh into a 90-degree position vs. the floor. Then slowly straighten your knee. After you’ve gotten used to doing this exercise, you can achieve a better stretch by pulling your thigh closer to your chest.
Quad Stretch: Stand with one hand holding onto something for balance and balance on one leg. Grasp the other leg behind you above the ankle or at the foot and bring up towards your bottom. Hold 30 seconds.
IT Band Stretch: