Saturday, September 27, 2008

The stretching dilemma

The stretching question has been discussed ad nauseum. To stretch or not to stretch, when to stretch and when not to.

With proper warm-up, stretching before running helps prevent injury, some say. That's just inviting trouble, say others, especially if you are not properly warmed up when you stretch.

Stretch gently immediately after your run, when the muscles are still warm, says one school of thought. Oh, no...stretch 30-45 minutes after the run, says the other; forcing pumping muscles into an opposite action, like stretching immediately after a run causes them to constrict instead of stretch.

I spend 5 minutes, at most, stretching immediately before and after a run. But I also stretch while strength training at least 2-3 times a week.

I figure a little stretching before and after a run can do more good than harm. Sports doctors and physical therapists recommend stretching as treatment and as prevention for most injuries. What is confusing is that there are hundreds of stretches out there. Which ones are the best and should be added to your 5-minute pre-run or post-run routine? Some of the stretches I find most beneficial, that help avoid the niggling pin pricks and stiffness during or after a run, are the folowing:

Hamstring & Back Stretch:
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Hug your shins to your chest to stretch your hamstrings and lower back.

Quadriceps stretch:
Stand on one foot, with one hand on a wall for balance. Hold the other foot with the opposite hand and raise the heel of the lifted foot to the buttocks (or as close as comfortably possible), stretching your quadriceps. Keep your body upright throughout. Change legs and repeat.

Calf stretch:
Lean against a wall. With your heel on the ground and knee straight, push your hips forward.

Calf stretch & Achilles stretch:
Lean against a wall. With your heel on the ground and knee bent, push your hips forward.

Arch stretch:
Walk forward on your heels and backward on your toes.

Towel Crunches:
Spread out a towel in front of your foot.
Use your toes to pull the towel toward you.

Split Squats:
Stretch your hip flexors dynamically. Assume a wide stance with your feet pointing forward. Squat with both hands behind your head.

Calf, achilles, and ankle stretch:
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart
Keep heels flat, toes pointed straight ahead
Assume bent knee position (quarter squat)

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