Running For Dummies
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Stretching is an important part of a fitness regimen, especially for runners. After putting some mileage on the personal odometer, runners’ muscles tend to become tight and inflexible, especially in certain areas such as the hips, lower back, and hamstring. And when tight muscles compromise the ability of a joint’s ability to move through its full range of motion, injury is more likely.

Runners debate the issue of the best time to stretch. Some experts say that you should stretch before you run; some say after. Don’t worry too much about when you stretch; just make sure that you do stretch, at some point, preferably every day.

Regular stretching can loosen muscles and improve range of motion, thereby helping to prevent injuries.

The basics of stretching

Follow these basic steps when performing a stretch:

  1. Get into the proper position and hold it for 15 to 30 seconds.

    Don’t bounce or force the motion.

  2. Go as far as you can, without feeling pain.

    If you feel some mild tension, that’s okay, but you should not be in pain.

  3. Repeat the stretch.

    Remember that stretching is not a contest. Some people are naturally more flexible than others. But everybody can improve.

Five quick stretches for runners

Here's a regimen of five basic stretches that you can do if you’re pressed for time. Do them every day, or at least on the days that you run:

  • Calf stretch: To stretch out the calf, lean against a wall with your forearms in front of you. Position your forward leg with your toe close to the wall. Bend the knee of your forward leg and slowly move your hips forward, keeping your lower back flat and the heel of your straight leg on the ground. Hold and repeat. Then do the other leg.

  • Lower back, hip, groin, and hamstring stretch: Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and pointed straight ahead. Slowly bend forward, keeping the knees “soft” (slightly bent). If you can touch your toes, fine. If you can’t, fine. Feeling the stretch in your hamstrings and lower back is the key to this stretch.

  • Quadriceps stretch: To do this stretch correctly, take your left foot with your right hand, while using your left hand to support your body against a wall. Gently pull your heel towards your backside, keeping the rest of the body straight. Feel the stretch in the quadriceps (thigh) muscles. Repeat with the other side, taking your right foot with your left hand. If you have particularly well-stretched quadriceps, you’re likely to be able to grab your right foot with your right hand and your left foot with your left hand when you perform this stretch — without losing your balance.

  • Hamstring stretch: From a seated position, extend your right leg and bend your left leg, touching the inside of your right thigh with the sole of the left foot. Grasp the part of your extended leg that you can comfortably reach. Some people can touch their foot, and others may not be able to reach much past their knee. Slowly and gently bend from the hip. Don’t worry about being able to reach your toes or touch your chest to your leg. Just go as far as you can comfortably, feeling that stretch in your hamstrings. Then repeat, with left leg extended.

  • Shoulders and neck stretch: Your upper body can get tense while you run, and it will definitely get tense if you do what most Americans do when not running — sit in front of a computer screen or a TV. So a little shoulder and neck stretch will help loosen you up all around. Raise the top of your shoulders towards your ears until you feel a slight tension in your neck and shoulders. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds and then relax your shoulders. Repeat several times.

Remember to stay relaxed while you stretch, and don’t hold your breath. Breathe as you stretch.

About This Article

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About the book authors:

Florence Griffith Joyner, the "World's Fastest Woman," won three gold and one silver medal in track and field at the '88 summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, in addition to a silver medal at the '84 Games in Los Angeles. In 1989, she was voted "Most Outstanding Amateur Athlete in America" and was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1995.
John Hanc is a running and fitness columnist for Newday and contributes frequently to Runner's World magazine. He is the author of The Essential Runner and The Essential Marathoner.

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