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Run Off The Winter Blues Part 7

Stretching For Runners

In the last few entries we’ve looked at running gear, motivation and covered how to run with good technique.  Your running technique, however, is only as good as it’s component parts allow it to be or, as the old saying goes, “a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link”. A simple example in runners can be and overly tight calf muscle.

All runners get tight calves, but if that tightness passes a critical point it can lead to twisting motion in the foot that can cause a whole host of conditions that can stop you in your tracks. Conditions to name but a few are plantar fasciitis, Runner’s knee, Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome and  low back pain. In the coming entries, I’ll be going through my top tips for keeping your chain in good condition. We’ll be talking about stretches for muscles that get tight in all runners, strengthening exercise for muscles I most commonly see weakness in in runners (particularly those of us who sit for a living), core work, and nutrition.

For Today…. Stretching

The research behind stretching has seen much discussion in recent years. There was a time when we recommended stretching for just about every sport. New research, however,  shows that some types of stretching are not helpful for certain sports. It is also very possible to overstretch which can cause pain and reduce your performance. There is a big difference between the stretching we should all be doing before exercise and the type we use to improve flexibility. For example: a competitive gymnast must have exceptional flexibility in their legs.

This takes  hours and hours of stretching every week, often for over an hour at a time. However, look at that same gymnast before they are about to do their routine and they just spend a couple of minutes doing some quick stretches to help limber up. The difference is crucial. The hours of stretches behind the scenes get you flexible enough to do the splits but when you are  about to exercise  you should just do enough to limber up.

So away from your runs, and certainly not immediately before a run, stretching for the legs and back is vital. Now there are loads of muscles and variations that you should look at but there are 3 that I see lacking in runners most commonly and help me the most in my own running.

  • Soleus Calf Stretch
  • Gastrocnemius Calf Stretch

Both Soleus (as seen below) and Gastrocnemius are part of the calf muscle group as shown in the image at the top of the page. Running creates tightness in these muscles as they are used on each stride absorb some of the impact when the foot lands on the ground.

soleus calf stretch

Hip Flexor Stretch

hip flexor stretching

The hip flexor muscles get tight in runners as this is the main muscle that lifts the thigh up on each stride.To improve flexibility in these muscle groups, you’re looking at a good 15 minutes of daily stretching or more depending your age. All runners should do this.  If limbering up before a run, get your heartrate up  just enough to produce a bead of sweat on your brow (you can do this by doing a brisk walk or doing some squats or push-ups). Once warm then spend just a couple of moments ease your muscle through the above stretches to prepare them for the run.

If you would like more information on stretching for runners, Rob is available in our Dooradoyle Clinic in Limerick.

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