Many runners get excited about increasing their speed and distance. However, they sometimes skimp on stretching and other essential elements of a balanced fitness program.
If that sounds like you, your habits could be holding you back. Consistent stretching will enhance your performance and lower your risk of injury. It’s also a constructive way to relax and deal with stress.
Find out what you need to know about training for greater flexibility and range of motion. Read this quick guide on stretching for runners.
Body Parts That Runners Need to Stretch
Tight hamstrings are a major issue for runners, but there are many more factors at work. You need to stretch the rest of your body, as well as your legs.
Keep these tips in mind:
- Care for your thighs. Running can make your hamstrings tight and uncomfortable because the quadriceps on the front of your thighs are often much stronger than the hamstrings on the back of your thighs. Stretching and strength training can help keep this muscular imbalance under control.
- Loosen your hips. If you push yourself too hard, you may feel pressure on the outside of your thigh where your iliotibial band (ITB) runs from your hip to your shin. It’s also important for runners to pay attention to the groin area near the front of the hip.
- Stretch your calves. Prevent cramps by doing exercises for your lower legs too. Your calves have to work very hard to push your weight off each foot when you run.
- Pamper your feet. Supportive shoes will protect your feet but stretches are fundamental too. To make things easier, you can do many of these movements sitting down, maybe while you’re watching TV or talking on the phone.
- Remember your upper body. While your legs are doing most of the work when you’re running, your upper body matters too. Your upper and lower back absorb pressure, especially if you run on hard surfaces. Also, being limber from head to toe helps you to maintain correct posture and move with less effort.
Stretching Techniques Runners Need to Use
Keep your muscles flexible and strong. In addition to running faster and longer, it may help you to age more comfortably.
Try these techniques:
- Respect your limits. It’s okay to feel a gentle pull while stretching, but back off if you experience any sharp sensations. Be patient and stay close to your comfort zone.
- Use other methods. If you already have injuries or very tight muscles, you may need to put off stretching for a while. Icing and massaging the area could help you recover faster.
- Warm up. Save static stretches for after your run when your muscles are warm. Prior to running, focus on gentle movements to get your blood flowing, like walking for a few minutes.
- Cool down. Take time to stretch for about 10 minutes before you hang up your running shoes. A consistent practice will pay off.
- Follow your breath. Coordinate your breath with your movements. Inhale as you tense each muscle before stretching. Exhale as you relax and lengthen.
- Move smoothly. Bouncing makes your muscles tighten and increases the risk of tears. Proceed at a slow and steady pace. Stay still as you hold stretches for about 30 seconds.
- Add resistance. Working against an opposing force can help you get greater results. Use your hand or a strap to gently press your body part in the other direction while you’re stretching.
- See your doctor. Discuss your individual questions with your physician, especially if you have underlying medical conditions. They may refer you to a physical therapist who can teach you stretching exercises customized for your needs.
Stay safe and reach your fitness goals by adding regular stretching sessions to your fitness program. You’ll be less likely to have to take days off to recover from injuries, and you’ll make running more comfortable and rewarding.