Stretching can be like marmite, some people love it, some people hate it - or at least see it as an inconvenience they don't have time for. The truth is that stretching is essential.
Why - it increases performance, protects joints, gives us increased range of motion and flexibility, all of which contribute to reducing injury risk.
When – ideally after every run or other exercise.
How – make stretching part of your run. When your session is complete, walk for 1-2 minutes to cool down, then move straight into your stretch sequence. Once it is part of your routine it will become habit, once a habit you will start to feel the benefits and keeping it going will become easier. Just 5-10 minutes a day will make all the difference.
What? As a minimum, you want to be stretching out all the major muscle groups used in your activity. For running this would be calves, quads, hamstrings, IT band and glutes, hip flexors and lower back. Ideally when you have time each of these areas should be stretched in isolation; however when you are short on time try to choose good ‘bang for buck’ stretches that cover a couple of areas at one time. Our ‘go-to’s’ in this regard are:
- Quadriceps and hip flexors Stand on your right leg. Bend left leg to hold ankle in left hand. Stand up straight, push left knee towards the floor to stretch your quads. Make sure you keep knees parallel. When the stretch wears off, pull the same ankle out behind you making sure your hips stay in position; this will stretch your hip flexors (top of thigh). Repeat on the right leg.
- Calf stretch – stand in front of a wall; place both hands on the wall, feet about one foot from the wall. Step left leg back, bend right knee slightly whilst keeping right leg straight. Press into the wall to stretch the top of your calf; bend the back knee slightly to stretch lower calf and achillies. Repeat on other side.
- Hamstrings – stand with straight legs, feet hip distance apart. Bend at the waist trying to get fingers as close to the ground as you can. Don’t bounce, just relax into the stretch.
- Lower back, glutes and ITB – lie on your back, knees bent and feet on the floor. Allow both knees to drop to the right, pause to stretch lower back. Then straighten the top leg and allow foot to drop toward the floor to stretch ITB and glute. Bend the top leg again, bring both knees back up to the start, with feet on the floor. Do the same on the other side; repeat 2-3 times each side.
Top tips : hold each position until the stretch wears off. Repeat 2-3 times. Play with the angles of the stretches to find your own areas of tightness and focus on these. Is one side tighter than the other? Note the differences and work into tight areas.