The Truth About Stretching

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Stretching after a run can reduce muscle soreness and fatigue, prevent joint injuries, and increase the muscle’s efficiency of movement (improving your overall speed, stamina, posture, balance, and form).

Stretching is also great for relaxation!

But unfortunately many runners do not have a good stretching routine. Or worse, their stretching is doing more harm than good!

While training for my first marathon I didn’t have a focused stretching regimen and was plagued by various injuries. Later I took up yoga and noticed the benefits while training for my next marathon. Regular yoga, focused stretching, and cross training made me a stronger, more balanced, healthier runner.

Sports injuries are often caused by imbalances. The pain most runners feel is not from the running in and of itself, but from imbalances that running can cause or exacerbate. Yoga can help you increase range of motion, agility, lung capacity, endurance, and strength.

Yoga also increases flexibility. While runners may have incredible endurance and powerful legs, they often have terribly tight leg, hip and upper back muscles. Yoga’s ability to create more range of motion in the body makes it a wonderful compliment to running.

My personal opinion is that stretching is a very important tool in the runner’s tool box. However, there are a few guidelines that you need to follow…

Stretching guidelines:

  1. Never stretch cold muscles. Always warm up by walking or slowly jogging for 5-10 minutes. Save the stretching routine for after your run. After running, stretching helps to remove lactic acid from the muscle, which in turn reduces muscle soreness. That promotes better flexibility. Stretching afterwards will also help you relax.
  2. Don’t force a stretch. Stretch to the point of mild, even tension, never pain or muscle trembling. While stretching can promote flexibility, stretching too far actually can damage the muscles—particularly if you’re recovering from an injury. A healthy muscle can elongate up to 1.6 times its length but generally doesn’t respond well to that much stretching and may result in a muscle strain or tear.
  3. Don’t bounce (ballistic) while stretching. Holding your stretch in a static (still) position works best.
  4. Breathe comfortably (don’t hold your breath) and let the muscle group relax.
  5. Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds. Don’t hurry through the routine.
  6. Ease into a stretching routine– don’t try to do too much, too soon; listen to your body and don’t try to compete with others.
  7. Check with your physician or therapist before stretching injured muscles.
  8. Find a stretching routine that works for you. There are some great yoga stretches for runners on YouTube and Runner’s World has some good routines.

My Stretching Routine (based on Yoga Poses)

Also Mentioned in this Episode


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This Episode’s Quick Tip
Take a online flexibility test over at www.fitnessmagazine.com/flexibility and see which of your muscle groups need improvement.


Happy Running!

25 Responses to The Truth About Stretching

  1. Trevor August 27, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    So, what do you think?

    • Ralph November 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

      Hi Angie and Trevor:
      I am a new runner… Working on the couch to 5k. Never been a runner, so most of this is new to me. You guys are a great insperation. I feel for Trevor, me being lazy as well. I have tryed the streches; helpful. So i was wondering if there is a video that I can put in my I Pod so I am not bound to the PC when i am cooling down. Now i believe I have what it takes. Thankyou for all you do.

  2. Carlos R. August 28, 2010 at 12:00 am #

    Hello Trevor and Angie,

    Great job! You managed to be brief but thorough in the article. The video is *very* helpful, though I wonder if my belly will let me do those positions! hehehe.

    Image has a lot of contrast between light colors and darker ones but the quality is more than good enough, specially since you obviously gave thought to the framing and angle of the shot. You are on the right track here.

    BTW, that spontaneous bit at the end adds a lot of personality to your work. Nicely done!

  3. Dave August 28, 2010 at 6:10 am #

    Great job! It was really helpful to see the stretches you recommended.

    Nice to see you smile at the end too.

    Good job guys!!

  4. Julie August 28, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    Angie and Trevor,
    Thanks for the video! Very helpful- I try to work Yoga into my schedule but it is challenging- trying to find a class that works with my schedules- both training and life schedules- I know that at a min I could use these yoga poses after my runs.
    Thanks again,
    Julie

  5. Stacey Barr August 29, 2010 at 1:41 am #

    Angie and Trevor, this is great. I practice (or try to!) ashtanga yoga and find it is brilliant for preventing and even helping heal injuries and tightness from running (and other activities like sitting at a computer all day).

    The balance of strength with flexibility is so important, and clearly you guys get this.

    Thanks for the inspiration and information.

  6. Helen August 29, 2010 at 3:45 am #

    Hi Angie and Trevor
    Thanks for episode 20! Am trying my best to get to yoga or body balance once to twice a week but it’s hard with my work/life schedule. I’ve found this video clip extremely helpful – thank you! I shall be using it while I train.
    Thanks again for all the advice and tips so far!
    Helen
    xo

  7. Angie August 29, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    Thanks for your kind remarks Carlos. Don’t worry about not being able to do the stretches perfectly 🙂 You’ll get more flexible over time. Keep up the great work!

  8. Angie August 29, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    Dave,

    I’m glad that you found the stretches helpful. It’s really hard to just describe a pose and easier to use a video to demonstrate. Happy stretching!

  9. Angie August 29, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    Hi Julie,

    Incorporating a regular yoga class into your schedule is great. Because many runners are challenged for time I wanted to put together this stretching routine that can be done after every run. Happy running!

  10. Angie August 29, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    Stacey- I’m glad that you’ve experienced the many benefits of practicing yoga. Life if definitely about incorporating balance and the combination of running and yoga meets many physical needs. Keep up the good work!

  11. Angie August 29, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

    You’re welcome Helen. Having a short stretching/yoga routine can be great for those extra busy days when making it to a class is difficult. All the best with your training!

  12. Cal August 30, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    How do you warm up your muscles prior to yoga type stretching?

    Thanks for the podcasts!

  13. dpeach August 31, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    Wow! You look tremendous for someone who is 8 months pregnant. 🙂

    The video was a huge help. Thank you.

  14. Angie September 2, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    Hi Cal,

    Definitely warm up your muscles prior to stretching or yoga with at least 5-10 minutes of walking or any cardiovascular type exercise. This will increase your flexibility and decrease the chance of injury. Happy stretching!

  15. Angie September 2, 2010 at 5:40 pm #

    Dpeach 🙂
    I’m glad that you found the video to be helpful. Fortunately, we had the foresight to shoot the video before I got too big. I definitely miss being able to stretch like that!

  16. dpeach September 7, 2010 at 6:41 am #

    I have been always been very flexible, but the last year of various injuries have limited me on some of my motion, so I threw the baby out with the bath water and stopped stretching altogether. I was surprised as to how difficult many of these stretches were when I started a week ago. But, after just a week I have seen vast improvements. Still not where I was before, but certainly headed the right direction.

    My most recent injury was a pulled/torn muscle. I got the OK from my doctor last week to engage in stretching even though I still had quite a bit of pain and limited motion in the muscle. In just a week most of the pain is gone.

    Thank you for your encouragement that stretching is still necessary (at least for some of us). My first 3 years as a runner I did not stretch much on my own, but I think I was saved by the fact that I was attending an exercise class where we stretched all the time. The last 2 years of not being part of the class, and using running as my primary source of activity, I have neglected any stretching. That is probably the cause of my latest injury (though probably would not have helped the stress fractures in my feet I had before).

  17. Angie September 13, 2010 at 10:58 am #

    Dpeach,
    Thanks for sharing your experience with stretching. I hope that you can continue to move past this injury and come out stronger in the end. Keep up the great work!

  18. Wilko van Asseldonk January 21, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Hi Angie, thanks for the examples, always better to see then to read and try to visualize. Just this week I experienced what stretching might do. I am transforming to running purely “barefoot” (meaning the Vibram FF) and yesterday extended to 50 minutes. In the past months that meant a few days of “concrete” calves. Yesterday, however I listened to your stretch podcast (I am that far behind) and decided to extend my normal stretch (a few seconds for each calves) to be a bit more serious (4x 30 secs per calve). Guess what: no pain at all today: I am sold.
    Now I will include your stretch examples after my long runs as well, hope that relieves some of my hamstring problem I am fighting on and off.

    • Angie January 27, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

      I’m glad that you saw some positive results using an extended stretching routine. I believe that over time you’ll notice increased flexibility and a decrease in muscle soreness. Keep up the great work!

  19. Wilko van Asseldonk January 21, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    Btw, is there a way to download the stretch video as a podcast? That way I can use my iPhone as tutor instead of having to startup my laptop (at least until I learned them properly).

  20. Mike Schommer February 4, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    Hi Angie & Trevor. Thanks for the great information! I’m getting ready to train for a triathlon this summer. I wanted to let you know that for those wanting to put the stretching video on their iPod or other device, they could download RealPlayer, (http://www.real.com/realplayer) and it would allow them to download the video and convert it to their device. If it happens to be an iPod, RealPlayer will also add it to iTunes so they can sync it. Thanks! Gotta Run now;)

    • Angie February 8, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

      Mike- Thank you for that information! All the best as you train for your triathlon this summer.

  21. Meliessa Kegler June 5, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    Great stretches…thanks!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. My Thought Spot » Are my problems behind me? - September 9, 2010

    […] stretching routine I use is one I heard about on the Marathon Training Academy podcast. Angie from the podcast put together the video below. For the last 8 days (since I went to the […]

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