Stretching is a word that is thrown around a lot in the fitness and running industry. There is so much out there on how, why and what kind of stretching should be done for certain types of exercise. Because this is a blog all about running, let's focus on the details of stretching for running.
First, let's start by defining what stretching is and what it does. Stretching is the action of increasing the length of the muscle as a unit. This means the muscle is stretching from its origin point to the insertion point. Below is a photo that shows the origin and insertion points for some of the thigh muscles.
Why is stretching so important? The body is made to move, and our movements are based on the flexibility and range of motion (ROM) our muscles have. There are roughly 650 muscles in our body. That is a lot of muscles to keep flexible! Stretching is the key to maintaining the mobility of those muscles and keeping our bodies functioning properly. The majority of people have very tight muscles or have what is referred to as, Reduced Range of Motion. This can be caused by a number of factors. Two of those factors are Passive and Active mechanisms. Passive reduced range of motion can be from our body's posture and the body compensating for that. Active tightness comes from an active body and the spasms and contractions that come with being active. Tightness of the muscles lead to limited range of motion and muscle imbalances.
When it comes to running, there are two types of stretching that are usually discussed: Dynamic and Static.
Static Stretching: The most common and frequently used technique. It is performed by holding a certain position, for a certain amount of time, for a given number of reps. (hold for 10 seconds, 3 times)
Below is a static stretch of the quadriceps post run.
Dynamic Stretching: Dynamic is the opposite of static. It is an active movement without holding the position. The are two types of Dynamic stretching: Active and Ballistic. Active dynamic stretching is moving a limb (ex. your arm) through its full range of motion and repeating several times. Ballistic stretching is a fast or rapid movement, sometimes bouncy action of the muscle. (This is not recommended anymore because of it's increased risk of injury.)
There have been multiple studies done on Static and Dynamic stretching. It seems that Static stretching done immediately before an exercise, like running, has shown to be detrimental to running and/or jumping performance. The studies show that there is actually some muscle strength loss which they call "stretch-induced strength loss."
It is hard to stretch a muscle that is not fully warmed up. Imagine you have a rubber band fresh out of the package, never used. The first time you stretch that rubber band it is stiff and sometimes, they even break. The rubber band works best if you first roll it around in your hands for a bit, get it nice and warm, and then stretch it! Our muscles work the same way. Trying to static stretch your muscle right off the bat is not the best idea.
Dynamic stretching has been shown to improve running and jumping performances. Remember, I mention that in order for a new rubber band to work the best, it needed to be rolled around a bit and get warm? That rolling around is like dynamic stretching. Our muscles need to move in continuous movement all the way through its full range of motion before they want to be held in a certain position.
For a runner, the best warm up and cool down would look something like this:
--Dynamic stretching exercises (with a few ballistic exercises)
--The run or workout in mind
--Dynamic stretching Exercises post run
--Static stretching exercises post run
Notice that the static stretching is not done until the very end of the entire routine. At this time, the muscles are plenty warm and it is safer to hold the muscle in a static position.
I have worked with Mr. Josh McIntosh, APRN who works with Dr. Dylan Carpenter, MD, FAAOS of White River Medical Clinic Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Clinic to put together a dynamic-static warm up and cool down that would work for any runner.
For the past two weeks, I have used the routine that is linked below. I have noticed a huge difference in how I feel before a run and after. My body seems to be ready and loose for the run and post run, my legs feel recovered. The exercises in the routine are just examples of many dynamic and static stretching moves. You may need to adjust time, reps or how long it takes to complete. I hope this helps your running as much as it has mine!
Below is a printable version of the stretching routine. Just click on the photo for the PDF version. Feel free to print and hang up!