The importance of stretching before and after your run is cannot be stressed enough. Imagine a football player getting out of bed and jumping straight into a 90 minute game of football. Just think of the damage they would do to their body.
If you watch any athletes training, whether tennis players, marathon runners, or even cheese rolling experts, then you’ll notice how much emphasis they place on warming up. I’ve even seen chess players exercising their hands before going into battle.
So you can see the importance of stretching before your run, right? Don’t get tempted to skip it, never run at a fast pace without stretching. You might as well just run into a wall, because that’s how you’ll feel once the run is over, or the next day. I always run slowly for 5 to 10 minutes before I start to warm up. Never stretch a cold muscle as you’ll risk injury.
Start with your legs. I always begin with quads. I grab my foot and pull it up slowly behind, so I can feel the muscles stretch. I normally hold for ten seconds, swap legs, and then do it again. Each time I stretch a bit further. I repeat this three times before going on to the next muscle.
A vital muscle to stretch as well. Start slowly, reach down and touch your toes. Try not to go too fast or you’ll risk pulling your legs or back. Hold for 10 seconds again, come up, have a shake, and then try again, going a bit further each time. By the end of the third go, I normally touch my toes.
This is the same as the hamstring, but you point your foot up as you stretch. Push your bum out and bend your knees slightly. Hold for 10 seconds. Then swap legs and do this 3 times again.
The last thing you want to do is pull your groin. This is a tender area that needs lots of stretching before you start to run. First twist your hips a little and place your feet at 90 degrees. Then lower yourself down a bit and feel the inside of your legs stretch out.
As always, start slowly and gradually push the muscles. If you can find a bench or some railings then you can rest your leg up and also stretch your groin and hams this way. You could finish your lower body warm up with a few ankle rotations before you run.
It’s amazing how many runners only think that they need to stretch their legs. The upper body is just as important.
I normally start by moving my arms in big circles over my head. Really swing them about so you can feel your shoulders and back loosen up. The last thing you want is to injure your back. Stretch out your shoulders by moving one across your chest and really pull out the shoulder muscles.
Neck stretching is good too. Try not to put too much pressure on the back of your neck by looking up. Try side to side stretching for better results. Again, a couple of times on each side.
You could also do a few press-ups before you set off, just to warm your whole upper body. Beforehand, pull your arms behind your back and stretch out those chest muscles.
Run slowly to start with
Even after you’ve stretched, especially if you are on race day, or doing long distance, run for 5 more minutes, then stretch everything again before you set off. This will make sure your body is ready and fully limbo.
If you jump in the shower straight after a run and don’t do any warm down then you’ll likely be paying for it later on. Warning down is vital for speedy recovery and also for improving your performance the next time. I do the same exercises as above, maybe twice each is enough, just to give your muscles a final stretch before you get on with your life.
So, now you know importance of stretching before and after your running and how to do it. Just make sure you can fit it into your busy schedule. Best of luck.