The best way to stretch your running career is to stretch your body -- hamstrings, quadriceps and hip rotation among the most critical
BOULDER, CO -- Running is the sport that is available to every healthy person: It requires no equipment except a body in working order and a good pair of running shoes. It can be done with friends or alone, in almost any weather and requires no special venue; a park, a trail, a sidewalk, a road all work for the runner. And, it’s completely portable. You can do it at home, in town or another country -- all you need to pack are your running shoes and clothes.
Whether training or running a Marathon or a daily jog around the park, propoer stretching helps improve the runner’s performance, enabling you to run stronger and feel better if completed after every run. The operative word here is after. While most sports require loosening and warming up, running is the ultimate warm up. Muscles should only be stretched when they are warm, ideally post run.
The benefits to the heart and lungs, its usefulness in strengthening the legs and its general availability have made it popular, but like everything else, it carries its own risks. By its very nature, it can be hard on your body. Stretching can protect against damage by strengthening some muscles and lengthening others, increasing the runner’s strength, flexibility and endurance.
Fitnessmagazine.com recommends the following stretches to target the muscles and joints that running stresses most. They should be performed after running and cool down but while the muscles are still warm.
Tight hamstrings, common to runners, can lead to lower back pain and pulled muscles. A runner’s stride and speed may also be affected by tight hamstrings. This exercise is designed to make the hamstring more flexible.
Lie on the floor or ground with the back flat and straight and extending the legs. Keeping the left leg on the floor, bend the right knee and draw to the chest. Straighten the right leg, put your hands on the back of your calf and pull the leg slowly toward the head while keeping hips on the floor. Take a deep breath and hold for up to 30 seconds. Allow leg to return to floor. Repeat on opposite side.
Stretching the quadricep muscles forces the hamstring to contract which, in turn, strengthens the quads. Stronger quads take some of the stress off the knee and increase the runner’s speed.
Stand very straight, holding on to a chair back or other support if necessary. Feet should be in alignment with the hips. Reach behind you with your left hand and take hold of the front of your ankle and pull gently. Keep hips in line and the front of your left thigh straight and in line with the right leg. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
The piriformis muscle governs hip rotation, and frequently tightens up in runners. If it becomes too tight, it can affect the sciatic nerve causing pain from the glutes all the way down the leg. There are two stretches which help to guard against these problems.
A. Lie on the floor with your lower back flat, your hips level and legs extended. Bend the left knee, keeping the foot flat on the floor. Bend the right knee and place the right ankle against the front of the left knee. With the right hand, grab the back of the left thigh and pull, moving both legs toward the chest. At the same time, put the right elbow on the inside of the right knee and push it to the slide. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, breathing deeply. Repeat with the other side.
B. Lie on the floor with the back flat and legs extended. Keep hips level. Bend your right knee toward the chest, pulling it with the left hand. Keep the right arm stretched out to the side flat on the floor. Keep shoulders square and flat and use the left hand to pull the right knee across the body to the floor on the left side. Breathing deeply, hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat with the other side.
Do each of these stretches once or twice at the end of every run to strengthen and stretch the body, and you’ll stretch your running career as well.
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