There seems to be an endless debate in the running world about whether stretching before and after a run is necessary or not. One camp suggests stretching avoids injury and protects the body from the harshness of the road, while the other camp believes stretching offers few benefits and in fact can actually cause injury.
So who's right? Well, both camps are right to a point. Stretching, when done properly, can decrease the chances of an injury – but if it’s not performed properly, it can actually increase your chances of an injury.
Stretching is one of the most important aspects of any training programme. It can protect the body from the severity of the road by reducing muscle soreness, risk of injury to muscles, joints and tendons, and it can improve your athletic performance. Care should be taken when stretching; if you stretch too quickly, the muscle can contract and increase tension – so muscles should always be stretched slowly, and the stretch should be held for approximately 30 seconds. This way, the muscle tension falls and the muscle can be stretched further.
When stretching, don't 'bounce' the muscle! This is a common mistake, but doing it can pull or tear the muscle you're trying to ease. Also, don't stretch if you feel tightness in the muscle or if you feel any pain or discomfort.
Stretching should form part of your training session, both before and after your run. While you may not get the same kind of enjoyment from it as running, the benefits from stretching correctly can only improve your performance.
Check out our top ten stretches:
- Calf Stretch
Position your body about three feet from a wall and stand with your feet at shoulder width. Place your hands on the wall with your arms straight for support. Lean your hips forward and bend your knees slightly to stretch your calves.
- Leg Stretch
From the previous position, bend forward to lower your body to waist height. Bring one foot forward with your knee slightly bent. Lift the toes of the front foot to stretch the muscle under the calf. Stretch both legs.
- Back Stretch
Grip your elbow with the opposite hand and gently push the elbow up and across your body until your hand reaches between your shoulder blades. Gently push on your elbow to guide your hand down your back as far as it will comfortably go, stretching your triceps and shoulders. Stretch both arms.
- Hamstring Stretch
Lie down with one leg straight up in the air, the other bent with foot flat on the ground. Hook a towel over the arch of the lifted foot, and gently pull on the towel as you push against it with your foot. Push gently only to the point where you feel your muscles contract. Stretch both legs.
- Quadriceps Stretch
Kneel down without resting back on your heels. Lean back with your body erect and your arms to the sides. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Heel To Buttock
Stand on one foot, with one hand on a wall for balance. Hold the other foot with the opposite hand and raise the heel of the lifted foot to the buttocks (or as near as possible), stretching your quadriceps. Keep your body upright throughout. Repeat with the other leg.
- Hip and Lower Back Stretch
Sit on the ground with your legs crossed. Lift your right leg and cross it over the left, which should remain bent. Hug the right leg to your chest and twist the trunk of your body to look over your right shoulder. Change legs and repeat.
- Hamstring and Back Stretch
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Hug your shins to your chest to stretch your hamstrings and lower back.
- Quads and Lower Back Stretch
Lie on your back and, with your feet flat on the ground, lift your hips up until your body forms a flat plane. Repeat this ten times for 30 seconds each to stretch your quads and lower back.
- Groin Stretch
Sit down and put the soles of your feet together. With your elbows on the inside of your knees, gradually lean forward and gently press your knees towards the ground.