Stretching is a Great Way to Protect You From Running Injuries
Stretching before, during, or after exercise is a healthy practice that can help strengthen and lengthen muscles, as well as ward off injury. Although many runners tend to skip out on this important activity, even 5 – 10 minutes of stretching per day can be beneficial. Not only does stretching feel good on tired and achy muscles, tendons, and ligaments, but stretching increases stride length which results in faster and more efficient running. Listed below are a handful of stretching exercises to add to your running routine for better results!
To stretch your plantar fascia, which is the muscle that runs from your heel to your big toe, first find a stable object such as a tree or post. With your heel on the ground, place the ball of your foot against the object at a 45o angle from the ground. Bend your knee and push the ball of your foot into the surface to deepen the stretch. This maneuver is great for warding off injuries such as plantar fasciitis, and can also target cranky calf muscles!
Calves and Shoulders
Downward Facing Dog, a stretch borrowed from yoga, is one of the best multifunctional stretches a runner can add to his or her routine. Besides targeting calves and shoulders, Downward Facing Dog also stretches hips, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus muscles. Start with hands and knee on the ground, with fingers spread wide and hands directly beneath shoulders. Knees should be positioned under hips and approximately 15 – 20 cm apart. As you exhale, push your hips towards the ceiling and stand on the balls of your feet, with your hands still firmly planted on the ground. If unable to straighten your legs, walk your feet further away from your hands. As you gain flexibility in this position, work towards bringing your heels closer to the earth, as well as moving your feet closer to your hands.
Illiotibial (IT) Band
The IT band is the ligament which runs from the side of the hip all the way into the knee, and is commonly aggravated if not properly taken care of. A good stretch for the IT band, as well as the hips, is the Seated Figure Four. Begin by sitting on the ground with your knees bent and the soles of your feet firmly on the floor. Lean back and place the palms of your hands on the floor behind you, and then cross your right ankle over your left knee. The shin bone of your right leg should be parallel to the floor. To deepen the stretch, move your right knee away from your body.
Traditionally one of the weakest muscle groups on a runner, the hamstrings often need special attention. First find a stable object approximately mid-thigh height, such as a car bumper. Hoist your right leg onto the object while the left leg remains firmly planted. Keep your back straight and practice good posture. With a slight bend in your right knee, slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in your hamstring. You may even feel a stretch in your gluteus maximus muscles as well. This stretch is great before or after running, and can help prevent hamstring strains or tears.