Stretching is one of the most controversial issues in a runner’s world. Some experts say do it and others say don’t. In reality neither are specifically correct. Ultimately it comes down to your body’s abilities and comfort zones. However, with that being said, if you’re a runner and you decide stretching is right for you, you should be aware of how and when each type of stretch is appropriate.
Static and Dynamic Stretching
There are two different types of stretching, static and dynamic.
- Static stretching is when you are working on lengthening and extending your muscles. They require little movement but full range of motion and are typically help for 30 seconds. Primarily these stretches are used to loosen the muscle. Examples of static stretching are: chest stretch, shoulder stretch, up-dog, side bends, calf stretch, hamstring stretch, etc.
- Dynamic stretching requires much more movement but is low impact and uses a lower range of motion. Typically, this type of stretching is used to get the blood flowing and warm up the muscles. Some examples of dynamic stretching are butt kicks, high knees, jumping jacks, marching in place, or anything else that gets the blood flowing but is low-impact on the body.
Runners can technically use both types, however, they are to be used at different times. For example, before a run, the body is cold and muscles are generally tight. While in past times it has been the norm to static stretch, experts agree that it can be potentially dangerous to stretch cold muscles. So instead, they suggest substituting static with dynamic. Dynamic allows the muscles to be warmed up safely, while preventing injury and allows the blood to start circulating throughout the muscles. About 5 to 8 minutes is thought to be enough before you jump into your run.
Stretching After a Run
After your run is when your body is ready for static stretching. Static stretching allows the body to come to rest after a vigorous workout and helps to keep the muscles from bunching and tightening. While this type of stretching can be helpful there are a few rules involved to make you keep from injuring your body. First, don’t rush the stretch. Your workout is over and it’s time to cool down. Slowly approach each stretch and enjoy it. Second, don’t stretch to make it hurt. Again, it’s time for your body to relax. So just stretch until you feel it but don’t go beyond that. Third, make sure you stretch both sides of your body. Equilibrium is important and it’s important not to favor one side over the other. Fourthly, don’t bounce. While this can be a common occurrence it carries a risk of pulling or tearing your muscle. Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Finally, don’t hold your breath. In order for your body to relax it needs oxygen. So take deep breaths and breathe in and out slowly.
If you follow these rules of stretching you have the potential to improve your running ability safely. Stretching benefits the body in numerous ways and can help keep you warm, lose, and limber. Just remember when and how to stretch and your running workouts will be gold!