5 Important Stretches for Runners
By: Melanie Melilla, Group Exercise Director (Saw Mill Club)
If you’re a runner you know that miles of running makes your muscles tight…sometimes so tight that you put yourself at risk for injury. Although runners don’t have to be as flexible as ballerinas or gymnasts, regular stretching is an essential (too often overlooked) part of any healthy runner’s training program.
A few things to understand about stretching before you start:
- Stretching should never hurt! You will feel the muscles that are lengthening but pushing yourself to the point of physical pain is usually too far.
- There’s no bad time to stretch! Stretching after you have warmed up or after a long run, may have greater benefits for increasing your flexibility, but anytime is a safe time to stretch.
- You can stretch everyday! Unlike strength training or speed training, your body can benefit from stretching every day. So get it in when you can!
- It’s ok if you can’t stretch very far! Although you may start out with a small range of motion, all stretching can help reduce your risk for injury, give you better posture and more energy!
5 Basic Runner’s Stretches
- Heel Drops for stretching calves and shins: Stand barefoot on a step, with your heels aligned with the edge. Scoot back so that the ball of your right foot is still on the step and lift up your left leg by bending your knee. Lift up onto your right toes, hold, and then lower your right heel all the way down below the step, feeling the stretch through the entire back of your leg. Pause at the bottom and then lift back up onto your toe. Continue this for 15 repetitions before switching legs
- Cat Stretch for stretching muscles in the lower back: Begin on your hands and knees, in a tabletop position, making sure your knees are in line with your hips and your hands are in line with your shoulders. As you exhale, scoop up your abdominals toward your spine as your lower your head and arch your back up like a cat. Take a moment to feel your shoulder blades draw down as they separate, and feel your abs draw in tight as your low back stretches. Inhale. Exhale as you lift your head up and slide into the counter motion, where your belly button drops down as your back lengthens into a neutral position. Pause for a moment here. Feel your abdominal wall stretch and your shoulder blades relax and subtly come toward one another. Repeat this sequence 10 to 15 times.
- Hip Hinge for stretching your hamstrings: Stand with your right foot about 12 inches front of your left foot, with your right heel on the ground and right toes pointing up. Pull your hips back toward the wall behind you, keeping your abdominals drawing in, your eyes and tailbone lifting toward the ceiling. Hold while you take a big, deep breath in and out. Pulls hips back in and stand up straight. Repeat 10 times and switch to left leg front for 10 repetitions.
- Wall stretch for quads and hip flexors: Back your feet up against a wall, a box, or against the upper cushion of your couch. If using a hard floor, put down a cushion for your knee. Slide your left leg so that the knee fits into the corner where the floor meets the wall (or whatever corresponding corner you might be using). Make the shin flush with the wall and point the toe. Squeeze your glutes and your left glute in particular. Keep squeezing throughout the mobilization. This will stabilize your lower back and correctly position your hip joint. Draw up the right leg and place it in front of you with a vertical shin. Lift the torso upright, with glutes and abdominals engaged allowing the front of the hip to open. Hold for 30-60 seconds while breathing deeply.
- Lying Hip Stretch for hips and hamstrings: Lie on your back and place a strap, towel or belt around the bottom of your left foot just behind the ball of the foot. Hold the strap in your right hand and take your left arm out away from the torso at a 90-degree angle. Straighten your left leg and extend your left heel up. Keep the right leg on the floor with the knee bent or straight. On exhale, lower your left leg across your body as the left hip moves away from the ribs on the left. On inhale, bring your leg back up to the starting position. Repeat three to five times. From starting position, drop the left leg across the body once more and hold the stretch in this position for five to twelve breaths. Roll the left hip/pelvic area away from the ribs on the left side, and use the strap to pull the toes toward the shins. The arm holding the strap stays straight.
Repeat with other leg.