To stretch or not to stretch…

Hands up if you don’t stretch each time you run let alone everyday. Yep me too, when I first started running I hardly ever stretched and then one day I went for a sports massage and after 30 minutes of tear provoking pain I vowed to stretch at least after each run. There’s much debate about whether you should stretch before running, after running or both and my take is always after running and sometimes dynamic stretching before if you’re about to do a speed/hill session or race. Now this post is not going to have any examples of how to stretch as there are already loads of videos and web pages you can find to show how to do various stretches if you’re not sure how, or you probably already have your preferred methods and I’m not a believer of reinventing the wheel. What I will do is share with you what I do because I think it helps and works for me.

If I’m going for a regular training run then I tend not to warm up or stretch, I just set off making sure I keep a slower pace for the first mile or two, before accelerating to the pace I want to maintain for that run, so effectively the first mile or so is the warm up. If I’m planning a speed or hill session then I’ll do a gentle warm up run first and then add in some dynamic stretches – my preferences are high knees, butt kicks and strides (I would add in skipping but I’m rubbish at it and I end up looking like a bad extra from a Monty Python sketch).

At the end of my run, regardless of the type of session, I like to slow jog or even walk for a couple of minutes to let my heart rate drop right down before doing my post run stretches. My stretching routine focuses on the four areas that matter to me calves, hamstrings, quads and glutes. I have two stretches for my calves, one for the lower muscles and one for the one upper, as this is a problem area for me and then one each for the others. The accepted practice is to hold a post run stretch for around 8-12 seconds, no more, as all you are looking to do is reset the muscles after the run. If you feel your muscles need more than this, then repeat the stretch rather than prolong it and as my coach always reminds us no bouncing and do not stretch beyond the point of pain, you should feel the stretch but it shouldn’t hurt!

One thing I have introduced over the past year is that I now try to stretch everyday (if not twice a day). It doesn’t take long and I tend to focus on the muscles I feel need stretching most. When doing these stretches I like to make sure my muscles are warm so I tend to do them later in the day and certainly after I’ve been up and about for a few hours. I do exactly the same stretches as I do post run but this time I hold them for around 25-30 seconds as I am trying to stretch the muscles and improve my flexibility.

I believe that by doing this level of stretching I’ve improved my overall flexibility and minimised my exposure to injury. In all my years of running I have only once pulled a muscle when running.

For some reason I always forget to stretch after a race when I definitely most need to and end up paying for it later in the day. I’m not quite sure why this is but it’s something I’m trying to remember to do, so if you see me after a race feel free to tell me to go stretch!

Try to remember to stretch properly after each run and also on the days you don’t run, you will feel the benefit and your legs will thank you in the long run.

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