Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

A bit of a stretch

Posted by boakley59 on January 17, 2012

So now you’ve left the holidays and the offseason behind and you’re digging back into your routine, ready to chase after new distance and speed goals. Please don’t leap from the couch right into a workout as if you haven’t been slacking for a week or two. Remember to warm up and stretch those muscles, or they’ll snap back at you!

How and when do you stretch? Different times take different actions, but simple principles apply.

First, different strokes for different folks. Research (Does stretching prevent injuries?) suggests that you need to do what works for you: If you usually stretch just a little, don’t decide to do twice your normal routine before a big race. If you usually stretch a lot, don’t skip it before trotting to the start line. Bad stretching is worse than no stretching. Make a just-for-you routine, paying special attention to areas where you have a history of trouble.

Second, conquer the cold, feed the fire. When you’re cold and tight, do gentle dynamic stretches to warm up. Don’t do long, slow stretches or jerky, bouncing, quick moves or you’ll tear muscles rather than loosen them. Before a run, you should do dynamic limbering motions, rather than long slow stretches. These are gentle dance-type moves just to get the blood flowing and wake up those tired areas. Work your way top down, from your neck to your shoulders to your arms, back, butt, thighs, calves, feet.

When you’ve finished a run, then do slow, steady stretches while your muscles are warm and at their most receptive, because this will build suppleness and prevent injury. You may ease some post-workout soreness besides.

Third, get to the core of the matter. When you’ve got a spare half hour or even in stolen moments as you go through your day, do some core strengthening exercises and stretches to build support areas. You will run easier and more efficiently with strong, supple muscles and connecting tissues.

Fourth, you know it flows downhill. Injuries generally indicate a problem farther up the chain. Trouble with the feet may come from the Achilles tendon or an imbalance with the calf; knee pain often starts with the iliotibial band at the hip. When you start feeling strain, think about what’s going on higher up and look for ways to build strength from the top down.

The five most common running injuries are knee pain, ITB syndrome, shin splints, Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis. Easy exercises for these are half squats for the knee, side leg raises for ITB, heel walking and big toe raises for shin splints, calf drops for the Achilles and the tripod arch raise for plantar fasciitis.

Check out Runner’s World online for a fantastic years-deep archive of articles and videos on proper stretching and strengthening exercises. The site is easy to navigate with category tabs, pull-down menus and a search engine that will guide you to a specific solution to any strain, injury or fear you might have. Another great place for running information is the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training, with training programs built on the best and latest research.

A little advance work will pay off handsomely in the home stretch.


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