Stretch? Who has time for that?
“I don’t have time to stretch,” said every runner ever.
Ok, maybe not every runner, but most runners will freely admit that they either don’t stretch enough or don’t stretch at all.
Aside from not having “time”, common reasons include not knowing what, when, how to stretch, and a lack of identifying the physiological benefits of stretching. Sure, everyone knows that in general stretching is good for them, but that in and of itself is rather vague.
The Importance of Specificity
When a person does cardio, for example running, they know that it is good for their cardiovascular system. Weight lifters not only know that by bench pressing, they are building muscle but also which muscles are being strengthened.
Additionally, the physical adaptations are more readily visible with cardio and weight lifting. People can feel the “runners high” or the perceived endorphin rush when they get their heart rate up. Exercisers can see their muscles contracting and extending when they strength train.
Stretching often gets left out of most workout routines because it is not intuitive to know what to stretch, how long to hold a stretch, much less what to stretch to relieve soreness, increase flexibility and range of motion (ROM), and improve workout performance.
Static and Dynamic Stretches
Traditionally when one thinks of stretching, static comes to mind before dynamic.
A static stretch is one in which a muscle is held in a position anywhere from 10-30 seconds. This type of stretch is favored by most because it can relax the muscle while elongating the fibers, which ultimately increases flexibility.
Dynamic stretching is a stretch performed by moving the muscles through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly, usually 10 to 12 times.
All forms of stretching has its advantages, but what is crucial about tapping into those benefits is timing.
When Runners Should Not Static Stretch
Static, as discussed in this blog,has been found to have a negative impact on running performance when done prior to running.
In a research study conducted by Florida State University at Tallahassee, Effects of Static Stretching on Energy Cost and Running Endurance Performance (2010), runners were divided into two groups. The first group completed four 30-second repetitions of 5 stretches for an average total stretching time of 16 minutes. The second group of runners simply sat and waited for 16 minutes. It was found that the mean distance of the non stretching group was significantly greater than the stretching group.
When Runners Should Stretch
There have been back-and-forth debates about whether exercisers should stretch before working out. In the past it was recommended to do some static stretching prior to a workout in order to loosen the muscles. However, as mentioned above, most current research suggests that static stretching prior to running can hinder performance.
Post run stretching, on the other hand, is favored because it has been found to enhance range of motion, increase flexibility, and above all, prevent injury.
Yoga stretches are quite often static in nature, and are therefore ideal post run. Yoga stretches differ from static stretches in that they are traditionally done as postures that are held for a few cycles of breath. In other words, a yoga posture could be held anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes.
Why is holding a stretch for so long advantageous? Increasing the duration of stretching has been linked with decreases in collagen production, which in turn forces collagen fibers to align in patterns that are far more beneficial for functional range of motion. Essentially, the muscles that are shortened while running will have a better chance of lengthening, so runners will not lose the range of motion they need for day-to-day living.
In addition to stretching, yoga postures often provide compression to certain joints. Compression postures temporarily restrict blood flow to the area that is being stretched. Once the compression is released, as the flow of freshly oxygenated blood comes rushing back in, the buildup of toxins, for example, lactic acid and scar tissue, can be flushed out.
Muscles to Stretch Post-Run
After running, the muscles most important to stretch include: the gluteals (maximus, medius, minimus), quadriceps (vastus lateralis, medialis, intermedius, rectus femoris), hip flexors (iliopsoas), hamstrings (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris) piriformis, tensor facia lata (TFL), and the calves (gastrocnemius, soleus).
5 Post Run Yoga Stretches
Wind Removing with twist Pavanamuktasana with Matseyendrasana (flexors, glutes, calves)
Lie on your back and extend one leg keeping the foot flexed to stretch the calf. Bring the other leg in toward your chest and pull about 2-3 inches below the knee. The pinch in the hip will compress the hip flexor. Release one hand after 30 seconds and keep the opposite hand on the knee. Gently pull the knee across your chest across the body. Keep both shoulders on the ground while holding the twist for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Fixed firm Supta Vajrasana (flexors, quads)
This can be done one leg at a time, but two legs at a time feels great. Channel your inner child and sit with your knees bent, hips between the feet. Keep both knees on the ground. If you’re completely seated and knees stay on the floor, you can lie back until your shoulders sit on the floor. Then bring your arms overhead and cross the elbows. Sitting back is not required; especially if there is any pain in the knees. Hold the posture for 30-60 seconds. Come out the reverse way you went in, lean forward to take pressure off the knees. This one is also a great compression for the knees, so straighten the legs immediately following to get the blood flowing.
Seated Forward Fold Paschimottanasana (hamstrings, calves)
Sit on the ground with both legs stretched out in front of you. Legs zipped up through the inner thighs and feet together. Fold your upper body over your legs and reach for your feet. If you can, grab you feet and hold lightly. The straighter the legs, the deeper the stretch in the calves and hamstrings. If the stretch is too deep, bend the knees. Hold the fold for 30 to 60 seconds. This posture can also be done one leg at a time if preferred. Simply bend one knee and bring the heel of the foot to the opposite leg inner thigh.
Pigeon Kapotasana (piriformis, glutes, TFL)
This posture is kind of like doing figure 4 on the floor. The front leg is bent forming the letter ‘L’, so the foot is straight out from the knee, and the knee is directly out from the hip line. The back leg can be straight behind you. As you feel comfortable, you can lean forward, maybe even lay your upper body flat on the bent leg. Hold the posture one one side for 30-60 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
Legs up the Wall Viparita Karani (hamstrings)
This final stretch is a passive, yet restorative posture. Sit with one hip touching the wall and twist your hips until your buttox is flat against the wall, and your back is flat on the floor. Extend the legs up the wall and bring your arms straight overhead so they are resting on the floor. To vary this stretch, you can open the legs wider, bend the knees slightly, bend one knee in and extend the other leg.