To stretch or not to stretch. That is the question.
It’s the great debate in the running world.
Do you stretch? If so, when? Before? After? How much? How often?
Research through the years has shown that really neither one is absolutely right. Static stretching, attempting to lengthen muscles and tendons to increase flexibility, is generally not recommended prior to a workout. No research has proven that static stretching before a workout prevents injury or improves performance.
A dynamic warm up that gets the blood flowing to the muscles and the heart rate elevated slowly prior to a run or workout is the best option. Good examples of a dynamic warm up are walking, performing the activity at a low intensity, lunges with a twist, knee to chest, squats, etc.
Post workout is the best time to stretch. That is, if you feel the need to. Studies vary on if any stretching is needed at all unless something feels tight. I personally do like to do a few stretches after a run. My calves, hamstrings, hips and lower back appreciate it after being pounded on for some time. Plus, it just feels good.
I’d love to say that I devote a large chunk of time to stretch after each workout. However, I’d be lying. Most days, I’m lucky if I can get 5-10 minutes in. Feeding my face, taking a shower, Mama duties and life in general become more of a priority. On days like that, I pull out my essential stretches. The ones that will target the hard working muscles that I know get tight.
Hold each of these stretches for 5 breaths and you’ll be done in 5 minutes.
You’ve got time for that, right?
Calf Stretch Off a Step
My calves are incredibly hard to stretch. Hanging my heel off a step is one of the best to target that pesky muscle. I do this a lot particularly after my tendon injury.
If you have more time: Same as above except bend your knee of the foot that is hanging off the step. You’ll feel this stretching more in the Achilles tendon.
This stretch is great for releasing tension in the entire upper body, straightens the spine and targets the hamstrings.
If you have more time: Stay in forward fold, release the hands to the ground and cross right leg over left to target the IT Band. Repeat on opposite side.
Downward Facing Dog
Down dog is the best, no? I love it for stretching my calves, hammies, releasing tension in my lower back and neck.
If you have more time: Take one leg off the ground, reaching it straight back and out. Bend that knee and open your hips for a more intense stretch in Three-Legged Dog.
Of course, a runner needs to be doing the Runner’s Lunge, right? This stretches the groin and the hip flexors.
If you have more time: If you want even more of a stretch for the hips, take it all the way down to the ground for Pigeon, one of my favorites.
If you have lots of time to kill after a workout, the absolute BEST stretch but isn’t even really a stretch, is Legs Up A Wall. It gets blood flowing to parts of the body that need it, restores tired feet and legs, stretches the back of the neck, front torso, and back of the legs. Basically, it targets everything that just worked hard during your run!
There are a ton of fantastic stretches for your running muscles. Obviously this is just a small fraction of what you can do with what time you have.
Are you a stretcher?
What are your essential stretches after a run?