Man stretching leg

Stretch for better running

Stretching is neglected by many of us but it has the potential to improve our performance, prevent injuries and keep us supple into old age. Why not add it to your running regime today?

You've mastered the art of jogging and bit-by-bit will have noticed improvements to your fitness levels, allowing you to enjoy running and get more from your training. What you might be uncertain about is stretching out after your runs and making sure that your poor old muscles are returned to their pre-exercise length before you head home for the couch.

There will be a few reasons for this and I would hazard a guess that one of them might be a self conscious factor as you worry about what people will think of you; another that you don't really know where to start and how to do it properly; and lastly that you don't understand exactly why it is so important to include stretching as part of your workout.

runABC Scotland and Bridge of Allan-based personal trainer Gilly Marshall have put together an introductory guide to stretching (highlighting a few simple stretches) and we hope that stretching before, but certainly after, you run will become as natural to you as taking to the road in your trainers.

Stretching should be an important part of your running regime for a variety of reasons. Not only does it help return your muscles to a pre-exercise length but it improves and maintains range of motion in your joints and helps with your flexibility. Reduced flexibility is related to aging, so keeping supple aids in long-term mobility and will keep your joints younger for longer. It is widely recognised that as part of a well-balanced fitness plan you must include the following three components: cardio, strength training and stretching in order to get the most out of your efforts.

Static stretching is best for recreational runners as the risk of injury is low, it requires little time and limited assistance and can be effective if done properly.

In this edition we will focus on the three primary static stretches for runners that take care of the upper calf, front of thigh (quadriceps) and back of thigh (hamstring). With all stretches care must be taken to move into the position in a slow, controlled manner and make sure to breathe and relax whilst doing it. Remember to hold each of the stretches for about 20 seconds and only stretch to the point of resistance - it might be uncomfortable but you should not feel any pain.

Quadricep stretch

Man showing quadricep stretch

You should feel this stretch in the large thigh muscles at the front of your leg.

If you are unsure of holding your balance then it is best to do this stretch with a park bench or gate to hand. Bend your knee and raise your heel to your bottom (or as far as it will go) hold in position by grasping your foot and pull up and back until you feel the stretch.

Remember to keep knee pointing down and not outwards.

Calf stretch

Man showing calf stretch

You should feel this stretch in your large calf muscles at the back of your leg.

Place your hands against a wall and keep yourself an arms length away from it, put your rear foot about 30cm behind your front foot and lean towards the wall keeping your back leg straight and your front leg bent.

Remember to keep weight on front leg and keep foot and calf aligned.

Hamstring stretch

Man showing hamstring stretch

You should feel this stretch in the large thigh muscles at the back of your leg.

Rest one leg on a park bench or step (keeping your foot lower than waist height). The raised leg should be straight but do not allow the knee to lock. Lean forward from the waist until you feel the stretch.

Remember to keep hips aligned and your body upright.

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