When you think about warming up before a run, you probably imagine someone touching their toes, stretching their arms and legs, or twisting to loosen up their back and shoulder muscles. The truth is, however, what runners commonly think of as stretching is not actually stretching itself but actually an effective way to warm up before the run. Warming the body up is key to having a good run but it's also critical to perform these same types of stretches after running as that will help minimize bigger issues down the road.
In order to understand why, you have to understand the difference between warming up and stretching and the differences between the two different types of stretching. Then you can understand why developing a good post-run stretching routine can boost your performance and help avoid injury.
Warming up before running or any kind of exercise is important. It gets your body prepared for the activity ahead and is a very effective way to avoid injury.
Exercises for all runners involve gradually increasing your heart rate. After all, the point of a warm up is to warm up your body. When your heart beats faster, blood flow increases which brings more oxygen to your muscles. The body temperature increases, which causes muscle fibers to become more pliable and flexible. Cold muscles don’t work as effectively as warm ones, which is why skipping a warm up can lead to injury and muscle soreness.
Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
What we typically think of as stretching—touching your toes, bending to the side, and extending your arms over your head, etc.—is actually called static stretching. Basically, static stretching is holding your muscles or joints in a position for around 30 seconds. It’s not particularly challenging, but having a static stretching routine that you do regularly and after running can improve your flexibility, range of motion, and performance.
The truth is that doing simple static stretching before a run actually has very little to do with whether or not you get injured and doesn’t affect your performance. That’s because the few short minutes of static stretching you do before a run aren’t really enough to benefit you.
Dynamic stretching is what you should do before a workout because it gets your heart pumping, your body moving, and it activates the muscles you’ll be using for your run—all of which are essential parts of a warm up.
While static stretching involves standing still and bending or pulling your muscles into various positions, dynamic stretching involves actually moving your muscles. If you have time you can even use resistance bands to get that extra stretch since your muscles are just warming up.
You should choose dynamic stretches that use the same muscles that you’ll be using in your workout. Before a run, try a brisk walk, lunges, butt kicks, or even skipping.
How Do Post-Run Stretches Prevent Injury and Boost Performance?
After a long run, you might be tempted to collapse or sit down and relax. Even though you’re tired, skipping a cool down can be detrimental to your muscles.
Taking just 10 minutes after a run to do static stretching can enhance your range of motion and help improve flexibility, two things that are sure to improve your run. Because your muscles are already warmed up, they can tolerate better stretching which will lead to longer lasting results.
Using a post-run routine in conjunction with the one you do a few times a week is the best way to maximize the effects of static stretching and receive the most benefits.
5 Must-Do Post-Run Stretches
Now that you know the kind of stretches you should do after a run and why they’re beneficial, here are 5 post-run static stretches you should do after your run to improve your performance and flexibility.
Tight hamstrings can limit your range of motion which can drastically affect your stride and speed when you’re running. After your run, static stretching of your hamstrings can improve flexibility.
Stand with your feet spread apart about a hips-width and lace your hands behind your back. Bend forward, tuck your chin to your chest, and raise your hands over your head. Hold for 30 seconds then slowly return to a standing position.
2. Calf Stretch
Stretching your calf muscles can help increase the length of your stride which will help you run faster. It can also help take the stress of your shins which can prevent shin pain. All you need is a wall.
Stand about an arm’s distance from the wall. Step one leg forward and keep the other one back with your feet remaining parallel. Bend the knee of the forward leg and press through the back heel. Hold for 30 seconds then switch sides.
Lastly if you're looking to help those calves to recover quickly you can always grab some Calf Compression Sleeves as compression sleeves are known to help your legs recover faster.
The piriformis muscle controls the rotation of the hip and if it becomes too tight, it can lead to sciatic nerve pain. Stretching after a run can prevent this from happening.
Pull your knee up to your chest and allow it to fall outward. Hold your shin and gently rock your leg from side to side while increasing the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and switches.
Stretching your chest can help you breathe deeper which will help you get more oxygen. More oxygen will help you run harder and longer.
Stand up tall and tuck your chin as you move your head backward. Raise your hands next to your ears. Take a deep breath and lower your elbows down behind your back as you exhale. Hold for 6 seconds then relax for 10. Repeat about 10 times.
5. Quad Stretch
Quad stretches help strengthen your hamstrings and keep the muscles flexible, which will help you lift your knees and run faster.
To do a basic quad stretch, stand on one leg with your knees touching. Grab your foot with the hand on the same side and pull it toward your butt. Hold for about 30 seconds then switch to the other legs.
Static stretches are what we typically think of as a good warm up before a workout but the opposite is actually true. While there is no evidence that static stretching pre-run will help performance, a solid post-run static stretching routine will help your flexibility and range of motion, boosting performance, and preventing injury.