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Stretch It Out

By Jasmine Miller
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Running is great for building endurance and strength, but it puts intense pressure on the lower body. Each step brings extra weight onto joints and causes muscles to contract as they work against gravity. In order to stay flexible, lubricated and working long-term, runners’ muscles need to be stretched out.

“Done properly, regular stretching can help prevent injury, increase range of motion, and improve performance,” says Ashley Merrithew, a certified athletic therapist at Salisbury Chiropractic and Rehab, and member of the Canadian Athletic Therapists Association.

That’s why many experts recommend dynamic stretches before hitting the road and static stretches after your run. So, what’s the difference?

Dynamic stretches are large, repetitive movements such as arm swings, walking lunges, butt kicks and knee-to-elbow touches. Their purpose is to raise body temperature, increase blood flow to the area, and to prepare your muscles for movement.  

Static stretches are slow, elongated movements, where you get into position and hold it. You may have done some before, such as standing toe-touches, seated forward bends, and butterfly groin stretches. The purpose of static stretching is to lengthen muscles…

Every run should start with a warm-up – 10 minutes of light jogging will do it  – to make muscles pliable. Follow that with a series of dynamic stretches and follow your run with static stretches.  

It doesn’t matter if you’re putting in two-miles on the treadmill, or heading outside for 10 miles of rugged trails, stretch these six muscles pre- and post-run.

Gluteus Maximus, Medius, and Minimus

While typically tightness is a good quality to have in these powerful muscles, this is not the case  if you’re a runner. A tight bum (gluteal muscles) can hold your stride back.

AFTER running, stretch this way: 

Static: Lying on your back, with knees bent and feet on the floor, put one foot on the opposite knee. Pull the supporting knee to your chest. Feel the tension where your thigh meets your bum? Good. Hold that for 30 to 60 seconds.

Hamstrings

If tight, this muscle group, located on the back of your thigh,  can lead to lower back pain. 

BEFORE running, stretch this way: 

Dynamic: Standing tall, kick one leg straight in front, ankle flexed. Try to touch your toes with the opposite hand. Put your foot down and repeat the kick with the other leg. Slouching is cheating. Aim for 10-15 kicks per leg.   

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Quadriceps  

Located on the front of the thigh, this muscle group incorporates some of the largest muscles in the body. These muscles give you the power to run hills however, if tight they can lead to knee pain.

AFTER running, stretch this way:

Static: Stand tall and, looking forward, reach behind you with your left hand and grab your left foot. Pull it toward your butt. You should feel the stretch should down the front of your leg. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. 

Gastrocnemius & Soleus 

These calf muscles contract each time your foot hits the ground.  They can get tight quickly leading to shin splints. 

AFTER running, stretch this way: 

Static: Stand with your heels hanging over the edge of a stair. Lower your heels till you feel pressure in your calves. Hold for 30 seconds. Rise. Repeat three times.

Iliotibial Band

Known as the “IT Band”, this fascial tissue spans the outer thigh, from hip to shin. Stretching it can help avoid knee problems, including IT band friction syndrome, which is common among runners.

AFTER running, stretch this way: 

Static: Stand straight. Put left foot behind right and bend to your left side. You should feel the pull on the outside of your right leg.

Ilio-Psoas (hip flexors)

This muscle connects the lower back and upper thigh. It allows you to pull your thigh upward – as you do every time you take a step. If you run on hard surfaces (such as roads or sidewalks) rather than grass or tracks, this muscle is more likely to get tight. Tight hip flexors can lead to hip, knee and lower back trouble. 

BEFORE running, stretch this way: 

Dynamic: Classic lunges are the answer. Stand tall, feet together. Step out about a meter. Bend your front knee until your thigh is parallel to the ground. You’ll feel the tension at the front of your hip in your back leg. Return to starting position. Alternate legs, and repeat 5-10x per leg.

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“Stretching is very underrated,” says Merrithew. “It’s just as important as exercise, and helps make sure your body works at its full potential.”

While these general stretches will help you get started, you may require a more specialized stretching program. Athletic Therapists are not only trained in rehabilitation of injuries, but also in preventing them from occurring in the first place.

Not sure how to get started? A Certified Athletic Therapist can show you the way with a tailored stretching program.

Contributing Athletic Therapist
Ashley Merrithew

CAT(C), B.Sc. Kin., BAHSc. (AT)

Ashley is a Certified Athletic Therapist from Salisbury, New Brunswick. After graduating from Sheridan College in 2013, she returned to her hometown to begin her practice in a multidisciplinary clinic , treating both the athletic and general population. Her passion is field work, primarily hockey, in which she has worked in various levels for the past 10 years. She is focused on the prevention of injury, and quickly yet safely returning all patients – both physically and mentally – back to their pre-injured state and beyond.