The Best Stretches for Runners

Do you do this kind of stretching before your runs?

 


If yes, you might consider changing up your routine
and look into dynamic stretching. 

What is dynamic stretching?


We rarely get in our running shoes ready to pounce like a lion

Dynamic stretching is a type of stretching that involves repeated smooth swinging motions, such as leg swings, or deliberately exagerated sport-specific movements such as high knees for runners. The goal is to progressively get all the joints into a good range of motion to perform a certain sport. Most routines involve about 10 to 15 repetitions of each movement per joint. Unlike ballistic stretching (one example would be the bouncy toe touches), dynamic stretching does not bring the joint close to its maximum range of motion but goes from a point of tension that still feels comfortable to a point of total relaxation.

Dynamic stretching as part of your pre-run routine

Most of us do not have an optimal range of motion in all our joints. We are often stiff from our work day or even sleeping in an awkward position. Sleeping all curled up, sitting at a desk, standing in heels, hunching over a work station, lifting, crouching, all these activities can make some muscles, such as the hip flexors or the traps, tight. We usually feel a lot better after a few minutes of walking and a slow warm up jog, but it is rarely enough to get these muscles to loosen up fully and the joints to move smoothly. That is where stretching can help. 
 
Static stretching cools you down, dynamic stretching warms you up


Dynamic stretching of the hip abductors and adductors with crossover leg swings 


Because it involves continuous movements, dynamic stretching promotes blood circulation and lubrication to the joints: two things that a good warm up should do. 

Unlike static stretching that tells your body and mind to relax, dynamic stretching keeps your muscles active and "elastic". Additionally, because the movements done in a dynamic stretching routine mimic the ones done in the sport this type of stretching is helpful to improve coordination and sports-specific mobility.

Static stretching, on the other hand, causes the muscles to cool down, losing the benefits gained from a warm-up walk or jog. As you might have felt when running in Canadian winters, running with cold muscles can lead to feelings of stiffness at best and injuries at worse.

Dynamic stretching for running injury prevention

Dynamic stretching, can help reduce the risk of misteps and running accidents

As explained in this article, static stretching does not help with injury prevention. 

Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, can help reducing the risk of hurting yourself, especially when running on trails or pushing your limits in a race. By activating your "running muscles" and their connection with your neurological system you can then reduce the risks linked to running with bad form or, if running on trails, tripping and falling. If racing, it will make the early part of your race feel easier. In short, it makes you a more alert athlete. The exaggerated movements make you aware of your body's capabilities so that if you need to jump, catch your step after tripping, change directions suddenly, etc. you will be able to do it more smoothly and without hurting yourself.

Dynamic stretching vs. static stretching for running performance

Static stretching is bad for performance, but dynamic stretching is not and might even help!

Again and again studies have shown that static stretching prior to physical activity would have a negative effect on power and strength. More recently, a study has shown that it also affects running efficiency for distance runners. The study published in 2010 by researchers at Florida State University investigated the effects of static stretching on energy cost and endurance performance in trained male runners. On one day, the runners ran a 60-minute treadmill run after 16 minutes of quiet sitting and on another they ran a 60-minute treadmill run after 16 minutes of performing 5 static stretches for the lower body. The runners were significantly less efficient (they spent more energy and ran less far) when running after doing static stretching than when running without doing static stretches.

Dynamic stretching, on the other hand was shown not to affect performance. A similar study done by researchers at the same university as done in 2012 to examine the effects of dynamic stretching this time. This time, the results showed no significant difference in how far the runners would run in a 30-minute time trial, meaning that dynamic stretching did not affect their endurance running performance in average. In fact, for the fittest runners, their performance was actually better after a warm up including dynamic stretching. It might be because the dynamic warm up routine chosen was a little bit too tiring for the less fit runners so that the benefits of the warm up were in a way cancelled by the fact they were a little tired from doing it. This means that running after doing dynamic stretching will allow you to perform at your best, but with less risk of injuries.

Dynamic stretching for recovery

No, doing static stretches will not help you recover better from your run or workout.


Historically, it has been thought that stretching should reduce muscle stiffness and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Fitness and running magazines often encourage post-exercise static stretching, even though it has not been scientifically proven to help with recovery. In fact a systematic review called "Effect of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury" done at the University of Sydney by R.D. Herbert and M. Gabriel came to the conclusion that static stretching before or after exercising does not protect from muscle soreness.

Studies have shown the best weapon against DOMS is massages. Unfortunately, we are not all pro athletes with a full-time massage therapist on our team or rich enough to afford massages 4-5 times a week. Massage helps with recovery because it enhances blood flow and stimulates lymphatic drainage, helping bring nutrients to the muscles and removing waste products.  

Static stretching has the opposite effect and, unlike most of us believe, reduces blood flow to the stretched muscles. Thankfully,dynamic stretching helps enhancing blood flow and foam rolling can help stimulate lymphatic drainage. Integrating these two after a brisk walk to your cool-down routine could help improve post-run muscle soreness.

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