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There are a number of quips and short stories that truly stand out in my mind from my time in college as an exercise science student, beyond of course, the “important” knowledge that all of my clients hope I’ve retained (rest assured, I have). One of those stories came from a biomechanics teacher, who told us he had once witnessed a physical altercation at an exercise science convention. That’s right, two academics were throwing down over science. And what were the two scientists fighting over?
Yes, one of the more widely debated topics in the exercise science world is the effectiveness of stretching. Some studies claim that stretching post run will only temporarily lengthen muscle tightness, others say a regular stretching practice will help long term flexibility.
One thing we know for sure is that static stretching, or holding a motionless stretch, BEFORE physical activity can be detrimental to your non warmed-up body (so always warm up with dynamic movements). But after a workout or a run? Static stretching may be beneficial. If nothing else, it does feel good. My personal experience (because this is my blog, right?) is that stretching is a pain in the ass to remember to do (let’s be real) but long term, works for me when it comes to long term flexibility.
Here are 6 of my favorite post run stretches:
Single Leg Standing Quadricep Stretch
Shifting all of your weight to one leg, kick your heel up towards your butt and grab your ankle. Make sure both of your thighs are side by side, with your bent knee pointing straight down towards the ground. Maintain balance while gently pulling back on your ankle to create stretch throughout the quadricep.
If you struggle with balance, you can hang on to a nearby stable object (tree, car, mailbox) or a partner. If you struggle with the mobility to grab your ankle, start by trying to grab the back of your sneaker. If that is also too much, you can place your foot on a chair behind you to create the same stretching effect.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
Standing upright, shift all of your weight to one leg. Take a medium sized step forward with the opposite leg. With both legs straight, dig the front leg’s heel into the ground, toes pointed towards the sky. With a tight core (pull your belly button in towards your spine) and flat back, bend forward from the hips until you feel a stretch that runs all the way from your glutes, down your hamstring, through the calf, to the achilles.
Standing Calf Stretch
Find a nearby tree, curb, even the tire of your car…something sturdy you can safely push your weight into. Bring your heel towards the ground, toes pointed toward the sky. Put your weight in your heel as it presses into the bottom of the aforementioned item. Then, bending from the ankle, lean forward to feel a stretch in your calf/lower leg.
Standing Piriformis Stretch
(a.k.a. “butt stretch”) Shift all of your weight into one leg. Take the opposite leg, and bring your ankle across the supporting thigh, to make a figure “4” out of your legs. Make sure the ankle is up on your thigh, and not across your knee. Now, sit back into a squat. You will feel the stretch across the piriformis, deep within the glute (butt) muscles.
If you struggle with balance on this one (and who can blame you, especially after a run), hang on to a tree, car, wall, partner, etc. OR, better yet, this can be done on the ground.
In seated position, bring one leg across the other to form a figure 4. Now, lay back with the torso/back on the ground, legs in the air, still in the figure 4 shape. Gently pull back on the supporting leg (bottom, underneath) to feel the stretch across the piriformis.
Standing Adductor (inner thigh) Stretch
Stand with your feet wider than hip width apart. Bend one knee at 90 degrees, similar to a side lunge. Keep the opposite leg straight, and slowly lean towards push down into your hips towards the ground. Experiment with leaning slightly to different sides, until you really feel the stretch in your hips.
Seated Hurdler Stretch (Hamstrings)
Sit on the ground with both feet extended in front of you. Bend one knee to bring the sole of your foot towards the opposite inner thigh. Try to keep both sits bones (your butt) on the ground, as well as trying to keep the bent knee close to the ground. Now, with a tight core and flat back, lean forward from the hips. Aim to bring the crown of your head out towards your feet, rather than rounding your back and bringing your nose down towards your knee.
Now that you know the stretches, how do you do them?
Immediately AFTER a run, I like to hold each stretch for a count of 30, then switch to the opposite leg. I repeat through the cycle twice, noting that often times the second round feels easier, and I may be able to go deeper in to the stretch.
SUPER IMPORTANT NOTE:
Stretching may be uncomfortable, but it is important to differentiate discomfort from pain. Discomfort means you are pushing your flexibility beyond it’s current ability. Pain means you are potentially causing damage, and no runner has time for an injury. So please never push into the “pain” zone.
Do you regularly stretch after workouts? (It’s OK to say no, I’m guilty at times too)
What’s your favorite post run stretch?