December 11, 2013
Okay, admit it. You often stretch before you go for a run. Why? Does it feel good? Is it a habit? Is it the best way to prep for a run?
It’s important to note that ACE-certified Personal Trainers recommend doing low-intensity body-weight movement exercises known as pre-hab before you start your workouts, including running. The traditional method of holding a stretch for 30 to 45 seconds actually signals a muscle to relax, which is not the best idea before you start being active. It’s better to save time for stretching at the end of a run, because it will help the muscles flush out the metabolic waste that accumulates during exercise, as well as reduce the stress that builds up during higher-intensity activities like running. Taking the time to stretch and cool down at the end of a run can go a long way to helping you prepare for your next one. Plus, stretching at the end of a workout just feels good and don’t you deserve a little more of that in your day?
Using a Flex-Band® is an extremely effective way to stretch and can help you move into a greater range-of-motion (ROM), which can promote recovery after exercise. Using the band can make it possible to perform a type of stretching known as contract-relax, which has been shown to increase the length of a muscle following exercise.
To perform contract-relax stretching, hold a stretch for a brief period of time and then contract the muscle being stretched for five to seven seconds. Once you relax the muscle, you can actually move the joint into a new position and a deeper stretch.
Standing Calf Stretch
- Your lower leg muscles take a beating when you run, so they’re one of the most important muscles to stretch at the end of your run.
- Place your right leg out straight while keeping the knee extended. Place the band around the widest part of foot; pull back on the band and hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Push your foot into the band for five to seven seconds; relax and pull your foot back into a new range of motion (ROM). Repeat for two to three cycles of contracting and relaxing before switching to the left foot.
Standing Quadriceps, Hip Flexors and Triceps Stretch
- This time-saving stretch involves the triceps and large muscles of the hips and thighs—all of which are used while running.
- Place the band around the top of the right foot. Pull your heel up to your right tailbone (or as close as possible) and keep your knee pointing straight down into the ground. Hold the band in your right hand and point your elbow up toward the sky. Once you’re pulling your foot up, slowly move your thigh back behind you to increase the stretch in the front of the thigh. Hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds and then slowly press your foot into the band to straighten the leg (but don’t straighten all the way). Hold for five to seven seconds and then release and pull your foot back into a deeper ROM. Repeat for two to three cycles of contracting and relaxing before switching to the left leg.
Lying Hamstrings Stretch
- Running can really make the muscles at the back of the legs tighten up. To get the most effective stretch for the hamstrings, how high you bring your leg is less important than keeping your knee straight.
- Lie flat on the ground with your left leg out straight and place the band around the back of the right heel. With your right leg straight, slowly pull your leg back until your feel a slight resistance from your muscles. (Do not let your knee bend; push the back of your left leg into the ground for an additional stretch). Hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds and then push your heel down for five to seven seconds while pulling back on the band. Relax and pull your leg into the new ROM (as you’re moving into the new ROM squeeze your thigh muscles, this will allow the hamstrings to stretch a little further). Repeat for two to three cycles of contacting and relaxing before switching to the left leg.
Lying Hip Rotator Stretch
- Your hip rotators and outer thigh muscles help stabilize your body when standing on one leg and do a lot of work when you’re running. This stretch focuses on those muscles, and feels great, so it’s a good one to finish up your cool-down.
- Lie flat on the ground with your left leg out straight. Wrap the band around the outside edge of your right foot and pull it across your body with your left hand; hold your right knee in your right hand. Hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds and then push the outside edge of your foot into the band (moving away from your left hand). Gently push down on your knee (pushing your thigh bone into your hip socket) and hold for five to seven seconds. Release and with your left hand pull your right foot into a new ROM. Repeat for two to three cycles of contracting and relaxing before switching to the left leg.
There you have it! Four simple exercises to help stretch your muscles after your run. Using the Flex-Band and the contract-relax method of stretching is an extremely effective method of increasing muscle flexibility and joint ROM. Be sure to do a proper pre-hab to warm up before you exercise, and then use the contract-relax method at the end to ensure a proper cool-down, which is critical for recovery and preparing for your next workout.
Pete McCall Contributor
Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and long-time player in the fitness industry. He has been featured as an expert in the Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Runner's World and Self. He holds a master's degree in exercise science and health promotion, and several advanced certifications and specializations with NSCA and NASM.More Blogs by Pete McCall »