The Best Stretches for RunnersApr 05, 2021
We all know that stretching is an important part of running, but it’s often hard to determine which kinds of stretches are best — and when it’s best to perform them.
In a nutshell, there are two main types of stretches you can perform: dynamic and static. While dynamic stretching is based on movement, static stretching involves moving a joint as far as it can go and holding it for 30 to 90 seconds.
Static stretching used to be the go-to warm-up for runners, but it fell out of favor about 10 years ago, when researchers found that it can have some negative, unintended consequences when performed before a workout, such as reduced power and performance. Since that finding, researchers have recommended dynamic stretching over static stretching in almost all instances, but especially before a run.
Dynamic versus static
It makes sense that performing a static stretch before a run isn’t a great idea: Your muscles aren’t warmed up yet, so you’re causing inflammation in the tissues before you ask them to glide against one another during a run. In fact, research has actually found that the longer you hold a stretch before a run, the more your performance will be negatively impacted during the workout.
That said, static stretching definitely has its place. It can be an effective way of increasing a tissue’s range of motion. Range of motion is a critical component of running because if it’s limited (i.e., you can’t move your joint through its full circuit, such as being unable to lift your arm straight above your head), you can risk injuring yourself. Static stretching after a run, when the body is warm and loose, also helps prevent stiffness, and it’s an effective way to signal to your body that it’s time to cool down and relax. (Plus, it just feels good!)
Performing dynamic stretches before a run, by contrast, is a good idea because they warm up the body, getting more blood and oxygen to the muscles, loosening the muscles and joints, and raising the core body temperature, which helps reduce muscle resistance and increases joint mobility.
To incorporate dynamic stretches into your warm-up routine, try 10 to 12 repetitions of walking lunges (with or without a torso twist), leg swings (back and forth and side to side), and small hip circles before a run. These types of stretches are helpful because they mimic the motions and target the joints and muscles you’ll use when running. They also help increase your power and improve your coordination and performance.
More important even than dynamic stretching, however, is soft-tissue mobilization. Soft-tissue mobilization is a therapy that breaks up scar tissue that forms with repetitive motion and overuse.
Because repetitive motion is kind of runners’ M.O., we tend to accumulate a lot of scar tissue. And that’s a good thing because endurance running is all about pushing the limits of the body — breaking it down so it can build back up again stronger than it was before.
The goal of soft-tissue work is simple: Accelerate the body’s recovery and keep the tissues healthy, so they can continue to perform well.
Performing soft-tissue mobilization techniques helps you train with fewer chances of getting injured and more opportunities to improve your performance. And the best part is, you can do them at home. All you have to do is apply pressure to an area that’s tight or tense and move the joint through its full range of motion. For example, if a spot on your ankle is tight, press your thumb into the spot, then alternate between flexing your foot and pointing your toes to work out the tightness.
Performing simple techniques like this can help break up scar tissue and loosen tightness. You can also use tools like a foam roller or tennis or lacrosse ball, which work well for trigger point-release and breaking up knots in your connective tissue. Just use the tools on an area that hurts, moving whatever joint or muscle you’re trying to loosen over top of them.
Another benefit of soft-tissue mobilization is that you typically see results (i.e., more flexibility) much more quickly than you do with stretching — usually after only one session, especially if it’s not a chronic issue.
Although these techniques work best if they’re performed every day, doing them at least once a week will definitely help your running, and, in most cases, give you results quickly.
Now get out there and run your life.