The Importance of Stretching for Runners

Danh Ngo"Staying Active" Division, Exercise Tips, Pain Relief Division, Running

Whether you’re a seasoned runner or you’re just getting started, you need to understand the importance of stretching.

Research shows that 50% of runners experience an injury every year that prevents them from being able to run. Many of these injuries can be avoided with a proper stretching routine. 

Most runners know that you should always do some stretching before you leave for a run. To reduce pain and the potential of injury, however, you should be doing it after your run as well.

In this post, we’re going to discuss some of the reasons why stretching for runners is crucial. There’s no denying the health benefits of running, but not enough runners are taking proper care of their bodies. Keep reading and you’ll be able to craft a stretching routine that keeps your body safe and your runs comfortable.

The Importance of Stretching for Runners

What does stretching really do for runners? If you’ve been going running without stretching and avoided any pain or injury so far, then stretching may seem unnecessary. Eventually, you’re going to feel the effects of neglecting stretching in increased stiffness, soreness, and injury.

When you’re running, your muscles and tissues are expanding and contracting. Stretching on a regular basis can improve the flexibility of these muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This makes running more comfortable, allowing you to run longer distances without major soreness.

Gradually improving your flexibility is also going to prevent muscles from straining and ligaments from tearing. When you first start stretching, you’ll feel stiff and sore, but with time, your stretching regimen should actually make you feel energetic and loose going into a run.

In addition, stretching can increase your blood supply, making it easier for your body to get nutrients and avoid soreness. This can also help to lower blood pressure since the blood vessels are being physically stretched. Stretching can also improve your posture over time, as it helps to properly align your upper body muscles.

 

Static Vs. Dynamic Stretching

Stretching for runners will come in two forms: static and dynamic stretching. Each brings something different to the table when it comes to preparing your body for a run. Both are necessary for preventing injury and soreness.

Static Stretching

Static stretching is exactly what it sounds like. You move your joint as far as it can comfortably go and hold it there for up to 30 seconds. Never stretch to the point of pain, as stretching that induces pain can be very dangerous.

Here are a few important static stretches to help with pain management and injury prevention:

  • Calf stretch: Stand with your hands against a wall, bring one leg forward with knees bent and the other leg straight back, lean forward, hold for 30 seconds, then switch.
  • Hamstring stretch: Stand with your feet together, fold forward at the hips, and hold for 30 seconds.
  • Quad stretch: Stand flat-footed, bring one foot back towards your butt, gently hold it there for 30 seconds with your hand, then switch.

Dynamic Stretching

For relaxing muscles and increasing your range of motion, you can’t beat static stretching. Dynamic stretching is better for giving your muscles and ligaments a warmup for what they’ll be doing while you’re running.

Walking lunges and leg swings are great examples of dynamic stretches that activate muscles and get them prepared for the run. Any type of controlled but active movement that mimics what you do when running is a good dynamic stretch. Here are a few popular examples that can help reduce injury prevalence:

  • High knees: Jog in place for a minute, lifting your knees up to waist level.
  • Leg swings: Using a wall or tree for support, extend one arm out, straighten the same leg, letting it swing back and forth 10 times, then switch legs.
  • Side lunge: Taking a wide stance, bend your right knee and go into a side lunge, then return to standing, repeating for 30 seconds, then switching sides.

Stretching Before a Run

There’s a lot of debate over whether you should stretch before or after a run. The real answer is that you should spend 10-15 minutes before and after your run doing your stretches.

If you’re taking time out of your busy schedule to run, the thing you’ll end up taking a shortcut on is your stretches. Try to consider stretching and running all a part of the same workout because it’s all equally important.

So, before you go for your run, the best thing to do is your dynamic stretching routine. If you think of stretching before and after a run as your warm-up and cool-down periods, then it all makes a bit more sense. Doing static stretches won’t really “warm you up” for your run, will they?

Perform a series of dynamic stretches that push your range of motion without making you uncomfortable. Target your knees, hips, hamstrings, and quads. Repeat them up to 5 times and gradually increase your range each time, then each of those muscles should be fired up and ready to go.

Stretching After a Run

The post-run stretch is one that most people end up leaving out, but again, this is a big mistake. Everyone gets a bit sore after they run, so your body needs this cool-down period for injury prevention, and to lengthen muscles and restore mobility. 

You can start your cool-down directly after you finish running with some further dynamic stretches interspersed with walking. If your body isn’t prepared, doing static stretches can do more harm than good.

Once you’re completely cooled down, however, you can start your static stretches. You only need to spend about 5 minutes stretching out your hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and knees to lower the risk of injury.

Not stretching after your run will sharply reduce the mobility of your muscles and tendons. This will lead to increased tension and inflammation. This puts you at risk of not only an immediate injury but developing a more serious condition over a longer period of time.

Keep Stretching for Pain Management and Injury Prevention

Now that you understand the importance of stretching for runners in managing pain and preventing injury, you can develop a better running routine. Spend 15 minutes before your run doing dynamic stretches and 5 minutes after doing static stretches. You’ll start to notice a massive difference in how you feel.

Stretching every time you run puts you in a great position to keep fit and stay healthy, but injuries happen nonetheless. At Revitalize Rehab Club, we can help you improve your flexibility, posture, and alignment.

If you’ve suffered a running injury, schedule an appointment today and let us help you get moving again.