Stretching: Is it really all that necessary?
While stretching cold muscles before a run can increase one’s risk of injury, it is important as runners and athletes alike to not overlook the long-term benefits of a solid, post-run, stretching program. Based on personal experience, I consider the following to be tried and true methods for sustaining proper balance in my routine:
Foam rolling – Any foam roller will do, but to really dig deep into the muscles, I find that a good quality, trigger point foam roller does the job and then some. You can find one at Amazon for $38.39. at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DT15O3K/ref=twister_B01LW755GP?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1. Here’s how to use it:
Quadricep roll: Place the foam roller perpendicular to your quad as you lie face down to the ground. With arms fully extended before you and palms lying flat on the floor to support your body weight, begin slowly pushing yourself away from the foam roller, beginning at least 3 inches above your knee as you roll back to your upper thigh, making sure to avoid rolling your hip. Roll slowly back to the top of your knee, avoiding any contact with the knee. This is considered one repetition. Keep in mind that this exercise will feel painful at first, so it is best to start out slowly, working your way up to 5, then 10, and eventually 15 or 20 repetitions per leg. Switch legs and repeat the same steps and number of repetitions.
IT band roll: Place the foam roller perpendicular to the outside of your leg, making contact with the foam roller at least 3 inches above your knee. With arms fully extended above you and palms lying flat on the floor to support your body weight, begin slowly pushing yourself away from the foam roller, beginning at least 3 inches above your knee as you roll along the side of your leg to massage the IT band. Always make sure to avoid rolling your hip. Roll slowly back to the top of your knee, avoiding any contact with the knee. This is considered one repetition. Keep in mind that this will feel painful at first, so it is best to start out slowly, working your way up to 5, then 10, and eventually 15 or 20 repetitions per leg. Switch legs and repeat the same steps and number of repetitions.
Calf roll: Place the foam roller perpendicular to the back of your calf as you sit on the ground. With arms fully extended behind you and palms lying flat on the floor to support your body weight, begin slowly pushing yourself away from the foam roller to massage the length of your calf. Be sure to avoid rolling the ankle altogether. This is considered one repetition. Keep in mind that this will feel painful at first, so it is best to start out slowly, working your way up to 5, then 10, and possibly 15 or 20 repetitions per leg. Switch legs and repeat the same steps and number of repetitions.
Trigger point ball: For those harder to reach areas like your glutes, a trigger point high-density ball will do just the trick to loosen up any tightness that might appear which can put unnecessary strain on your lower back and hamstrings. You can scoop one of these up on Amazon for $19.95 at https://www.amazon.com/Pro-Tec-Athletics-Density-Massage-Diameter/dp/B00B2YAD46/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525710025&sr=8-1&keywords=the+orb.
Sit with one glute on the ball as you slowly roll out the muscle into the outward portion of the hip, making sure to avoid any bony areas of the hip and sit bones when performing this exercise. Switch sides and repeat the same steps.
Stretch Out Strap: To round out your post-run routine, it’s important to use a strap as this will help lengthen the muscles and maintain or in some cases, increase flexibility. You can find a decent one on Amazon with an instruction booklet to further assist you in targeting specific areas for $15.95 at https://www.amazon.com/Original-Stretch-Strap-Exercise-OPTP/dp/B00065X222/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1525710748&sr=8-3&keywords=green+strap+for+stretching.
Lying on the ground face up, loop the strap around the bottom of your foot while holding onto the ends with each hand. With your leg fully extended in front of you, raise your leg. Pulling your knee up to a 45 degree angle, push away from the strap to create resistance as you fully extend your leg to a 90 degree position. From here you have the option of drawing your leg closer to you with the help of the strap if you want to further deepen the stretch. Keep in mind that any movement you make should be subtle and slow as the goal is to lengthen the muscles without putting unnecessary strain on them. You can also pause here to bend and stretch your calves against the strap, eventually returning your leg to the ground as you simultaneously push against the strap. Switch legs after performing this exercise up to 5-10 times.
Several years ago I attempted to stretch prior to running, but over time I found that it was simply better for me to perform a series of easy warmup runs. Knowing about my illness now several years later it makes perfect sense. Stretching could work, but is best performed very slowly and over a considerable period of time. However introducing a light cardiovascular effort and warmup from my experience does a much better job to loosen up and warm up muscles for a sustained effort in the case of someone with what I have.
For instance when attempting top speeds on the bike I would ride for well over an hour before I attempted to produce a maximum effort. Following that seemed to produce the best results and without injury. One time in a race that I went against that I did achieve a start that no one was expecting and resulted in a race pace faster than that day's pro race, however I felt the effects for several days...
It's officially spring in Boulder, CO, and the snow is (finally) melting on high-alpine trails. The return of warm weather and building daylight ushers the return early morning running before office hours. Clicking through some casual mountain-miles is a welcomed springtime routine--especially if done right.
For my wife and I, running has always been more than a hobby; we supplement our training with appropriate stretching and bodyweight exercises.
I'm a heavy sleeper and it always takes a minute for my stiff muscles and joints to liven. Pre-running stretches are minimal as I prefer to start slowly and work to tempo, shaking off nighttime cobwebs en route. I'll generally walk into my basics: touching my toes; stretching my back; flexing my ankles and knees. It's as much a mental body-check as it is a physical warmup.
Post-run stretching is significantly more important and deserves acute attention. Many cool-down techniques are hold-overs from our college days, a variety of static and dynamic activities that help us transition mentally and physically to our daily tasks.
Personally, I start with walking toe-touches and side lunges--no bouncing--but with distinct rhythm and purpose, left, center, and right. As a natural forefoot runner I like to keep oxygen circulating and legs active to avoid lactic acid buildup (also, as an avid skier, adding lunges into my post-run routine helps develop relevant muscle groups normally overlooked in basic endurance training. I've found that it helps to do lunges while I'm still warm and breathing moderately). I'll walk around on my heels and toes, too, to give specific attention to lower leg muscles
When my breathing returns to normal I'll do standing side-stretches into forward and side hangs. Afterwards I'll sit and do hurdle stretches, back twists, and butterfly stretches (each to the point of mild tension).
I finish my routine, standing, with quad and calf stretches. I'll often add pushups, pull-ups, and sit-ups if time allows. By the time I'm done I've cooled down nearly completely--coffee and breakfast always tastes better after a full effort and a resting heart rate.
Stretching is an important part of my daily running practice. My competitive background engrained a compulsive thoroughness in my athletic activity, however, I've found that I'm more attentive and productive throughout the day when I've given complete attention to every aspect of my training, pre- and post-workout.
Ever since I stopped racing, I've been an admittedly lazy stretcher. There are a few stretches that go a long way for me, though, even now.
Before I run, I like to do leg swings (side to side and front to back) with my hand on a wall or post to steady my balance. I'll do an easy quad stretch (think white heavy flamingo) and walking lunges (forward and back). After I run, I do a standing static stretch we called "Green Bay" for some reason back in the old, old days. You stand with your legs crossed at the ankles, and slowly reach down to touch your toes, twisting gently to each foot. I'll also do a few seated stretches to loosen my inner quads, hamstrings, and lower back.
There's no shortage of opinions regarding static vs dynamic stretches, I know geniuses, famous geniuses, that fall on either side of the fence. Over the years I've had friends and clinicians explain exactly why I should be doing one or the other, only to have the same friends and clinicians do an abrupt U-turn in time and argue the other viewpoint. Do you want to start a riot at a track coaches' convention? Use the words "elasticity" and "flexibility" in the same sentence.
What I've concluded is the benefit gained from stretching is more firmly rooted in the patience and discipline it represents than the hotly debated sport science woven into it. It's individual, and you need to thoughtfully figure out what works for you. If you're methodical, and pay attention, you'll get it right.