Stretching: The what, when and how.
Prepared by Dr. Karen Lawrence for the MRRC September 2013
Muscle tissue functions mainly as a source of power and motion in the body. Muscles' main responsibility is for changing or maintaining posture, locomotion, and movement of internal organs. The human body has about 650 muscles, and skeletal muscles attach themselves to tendons which are attached to the bones, or are connected directly to bone.
The entire body works when you run. Posture is very important when you run. We all know the lower half of the body works to move us forward. This takes a lot of strength from the gluteus and hamstrings, along with the inner and outer thighs and quadriceps. But, in order to keep the spine stabilised, the lower abdominal muscles work together with the lumbar muscles. In order to keep the rib cage open, the intercostals work along with the muscles that control the scapula, and the trapezius. The arms are used to propel us forward against different types of terrain.
The primary muscles used in running include:
The supporting muscles used in running include:
Dynamic stretches before exercises:
Dynamic stretching is an active stretching routine that has you slowly moving through motions to increase your heart rate, raise your body temperature and send extra blood to your muscles. This prepares them for exercise by increasing your range of motion. This is especially true if you are about to do a workout that requires lots of lower-extremity muscular power. A study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" in 2008 showed that dynamic stretching significantly increased peak knee power compared to static stretching.
Static stretches after exercises:
When you hold a stretch for an extended period, then you are performing a static stretch. According to an article published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" in 2005, static stretching neither improves nor enhances muscular performance when done before a workout, so save this stretching for a time when it actually does help your body: during your cool-down or an off day.
Dynamic stretching for runners uses momentum build up by various movements and active muscular effort to stretch the muscles within the particular movement. Dynamic stretches activate and loosen up all your leg muscles, preparing you for your run.
Swing one leg out to the side and then swing it back across your body in front of your other leg. Repeat 10 times on each side. Feel wobbly? Hold onto a steady object or grab a partner!
While standing tall, with your back straight, swing your leg in front of you, pointing your toes. Aim to extend each swing slightly further to get a good stretch. Do 10 reps on each side.
Imagine you are stepping over the side of a hurdle or fence. Lift your knee and rotate around the hip joint. Do 10 reps each side
Start with your feet side by side. Step back on to the ball of your foot, start stretching your calves by pushing one heel towards the ground. Do 10 reps each side
Get into the proper position and hold it for 15 to 30 seconds.
Don’t bounce or force the motion.
Go as far as you can, without feeling pain.
If you feel some mild tension, that’s okay, but you should not be in pain.
To stretch out the calf, stand on the balls of your feet on the edge of a step slowly let your heels drop. Or, lean against a wall with your forearms in front of you. Position your forward leg with your toe close to the wall. Bend the knee of your forward leg and slowly move your hips forward, keeping your lower back flat and the heel of your straight leg on the ground. Hold and repeat. Then do the other leg.
To do this stretch correctly, take your left foot with your hand, while using your other hand to support your body against a wall. Gently pull your heel towards your backside, keeping the rest of the body straight. Feel the stretch in the quadriceps (thigh) muscles. Repeat with the other side. If you have particularly well-stretched quadriceps, you’re likely to be able to grab your right foot without losing your balance.
From a seated position, extend your right leg and bend your left leg, touching the inside of your right thigh with the sole of the left foot. Grasp the part of your extended leg that you can comfortably reach. Some people can touch their foot, and others may not be able to reach much past their knee. Or, extend one leg onto a pole or seat, lean forward touching your toes, or lower leg. Then repeat.
Groin, hamstring and quads stretch:
Raise one foot on a pole or seat. Bend knee and lean forward, keeping back straight and bending from the hips. Push the heel of the lower leg into the ground.
To become the most efficient runner you can be, just running isn’t going to be enough. Strength training is one of the single most important non-running aspects of training that can help you become a better runner. Try adding these running specific strength training exercises to your running routine.
Gluteus: stabilise your hips and legs and help give you extra power. They also work with the hamstring and hip flexors when your leg retracts behind you preparing to propel forward. Try sumo squats, regular squats, and walking lunges.
Quads: propel you forward and help straighten out the leg in front so that it can make contact with the ground. Quads are the primary muscle used in the "drive" phase. Do leg lifts, leg extensions (machines at the gym are good for this), squats and lunges.
Calves: give you spring in your step and also act as shock absorbers. Try calf raises.
Hamstrings: help pull the leg back behind you and give you the strength to propel your body forward. They have to lengthen quite a big when you run, so be sure to include flexibility every week. Do hamstring lying leg curls + stretches (or yoga!).
Core: Strong abs and back are important because they keep your posture upright and overall form good. Do regular crunches, push ups and focus on planks which work all your core muscles.
Biceps: You need good biceps to maintain a bent arm and they help you swing your arms back and forth. Try regular bicep curls (use medium weights), hammer curls and curls with a resistance band.
Muscle soreness is a normal consequence of exercise. In most cases it is mild, emerging shortly after a workout is completed (if not during the workout) and lasting no longer than a day or two. But sometimes the pain is intense, and when it’s intense it is almost always delayed, emerging the morning after the workout and lasting as long as three or four days.
Known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), this rarer type of pain occurs after workouts that are unusually long or intense. Naturally, what constitutes an unusually long or intense workout differs between individual runners, and may also differ for any single athlete over time. For beginners, and for those who are returning to training after time off, virtually any workout is unusually long and intense, and that’s why DOMS occurs most frequently and is most severe at the beginning of the training process.
Always seek professional medical advice about painful injuries or prolonged injuries.
Early and correct use of RICER and NO HARM factors is essential for the initial management of a soft tissue injury. RICER & NO HARM should be continued for 48-72 hours.
RICER - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, Referral
No HARM - No Heat, No Alcohol, No Running, No Massage
Some things that you can try:
Many professional runners use ice baths to reduce soreness after runs. If you can't tolerate an ice bath, use ice packs on sore areas.
Don't take off from exercise completely - that may actually make your recovery longer. Gentle active recovery may work best. Just make sure you avoid vigorous activity until the soreness has subsided.
Now, this has been a lot to take in and believe me stretching is a hot, debatable topic!! Many books, journals and websites almost contradict each other but there is general consensus that stretches are a positive component of a runners exercise regime. There are many other types of stretches you can try to build up your repertoire.
So what now? Make stretches part of your warm up and cool down. Think about what it is that you are actually trying to achieve. As the SRG program starts to ramp up, following these basic principals will greatly improve your running experience.
Happy running everyone!