Stretching is something that many runners tend to ignore, yet the benefits of stretching can include:
- Improved flexibility
- Improved muscular endurance and strength
- Reduced muscle soreness
- Good muscular and joint mobility
- Greater fluidity of motion
- Improved body alignment and posture
- Better warm up and cool down in an exercise session
Here are 5 basic stretches from Debbie Pitchford that runners will find helpful.
- Quadriceps Stretch: The quadriceps is the muscle in the front of the thigh, important for lifting your knees and increasing your speed . To do this exercise while standing, simply grab hold of a stationary object for balance with one hand and use the opposite hand to grasp the leg around the ankle, lifting it toward your buttocks. Pitchford points out several form faults: "You want to keep your back straight and not allow the knee to drift forward ahead of the stance leg. A lot of runners slouch forward, which effectively negates the stretch’s effectiveness."
- Hamstring Stretch: Most runners do this exercise by putting their foot on a waist-high stationary object (or a hurdle if at the track) and slowly leaning forward, reaching down the shin until they feel a stretch in the hamstring. The hamstring is the muscle that runs from just below the knee up into the buttocks. It’s the muscle that lifts the lower leg and bends the knee after the quads have lifted your knees.
- Piriformis Stretch: The piriformis muscle is responsible for lateral rotation of the hip. It is particularly important to athletes who have to change direction, such as tennis players and running backs in football. But though runners run straight ahead, keeping the piriformis muscle loose is important for overall flexibility. Lying on your back, cross your legs just as you might while sitting in a chair. Grasping the "under" leg with both hands, pull the knee toward your chest until you feel the stretch in your buttocks and hips.
- Gastroc Stretch: Runners typically lean against a wall to stretch the calf muscles—but they don’t always do it right, claims Pitchford. The gastroc muscle, along with the soleus, is located in the back of the calf. It is the calf muscle that actually propels your leg across your grounded foot while running. Lean against a wall or other stationary object, both palms against the object. The leg you want to stretch is back, several feet from the wall, your heel firmly positioned on the floor. Your other leg is flexed about halfway between your back leg and the wall. Start with your back straight and gradually lunge forward until you feel the stretch in your calf. "It is important to keep your back foot straight and angled 90 degrees from the wall," says Pitchford.
- Soleus Stretch: "This is the stretch that most runners forget," says Pitchford. "They stretch their gastroc muscles (as above) without realizing there’s a similar stretch for the soleus." The soleus is the other major muscle in the calf, located in front of the gastroc. It is important for planting the foot on the ground before your push off. Position yourself similar to the gastroc stretch with back straight and palms against the wall. The difference is that you start in a "seated" position with your legs bent, your buttocks dropped. Gently lean into the wall until you feel the stretch in your lower calf.