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How, When and What Runners Need to Stretch

January 18, 2013 | Giovanni Grassi

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Stretching has been a long-standing workout staple for athletes to increase their flexibility and joint range of motion. (Read more on STACK's Stretching page.) But when it comes to stretching, many athletes, especially runners, frequently wonder, "How do I stretch this muscle?" or "When is the best time for me to stretch?" or "How long should I hold this stretch?"

Track coaches and runners must always incorporate stretching in their training programs. Runners need hip flexibility to improve  their lower-body strength and increase their stride length. Stretching can also reduce the risk of common track-related injuries.

Many track coaches have their athletes perform static stretches as part of their warm-up. But I am here to tell you that static stretching reduces power and decreases sprinting times. Research has shown that static stretching prior to an event can diminish peak force output from stretch-shortening cycle actions, but that performing a dynamic warm-up enhances performance.[1] It is also proven that stretching prior to an event can result to a three percent decline in sprint time.

So what should runners do prior to an event or practice? They should go through a dynamic warm-up that is aimed at increasing blood flow and activating muscles (motor recruitment).

Save your static stretching for after your workout or event. Using a long resistance band (medium tension), perform the following four stretches after practice, lifting or an event to increase flexibility and speed recovery.

Lying Hamstring Stretch

Sets/Duration: 2x30 seconds each leg

  • Lie on your back with the band wrapped around one foot
  • Pull on the band so that your leg rises up and stretches
  • Keep the opposite leg straight on the ground.
  • As you stretch, practice taking slow deep breaths; breathe out slowly as you pull your leg back more to increase flexibility

Crossover Stretch

Sets/Duration: 2x30 seconds each leg

  • Keeping the band wrapped around your foot, pull that leg across your body
  • Keep your opposite leg straight and both shoulders in contact with the ground
  • You should feel this stretch on the outside of your leg as well as your glutes
  • As you stretch, practice taking slow deep breaths; breathe out slowly as you pull your leg back more to increase flexibility

Side Stretch

Sets/Duration: 2x30 seconds each leg

  • Keeping the band wrapped around your foot, pull that leg out to the side of your body
  • Keep your opposite leg straight and both shoulders in contact with the ground
  • You should feel this stretch on the inside part of your leg
  • As you stretch, practice taking slow deep breaths; breathe out slowly as you pull your leg back more to increase flexibility

Quad/Hip Flexor Stretch

Sets/Duration: 2x30 seconds each leg

  • Keeping the band wrapped around your foot, roll over onto your stomach and pull the band over your opposite shoulder, lifting your quad off the ground
  • You should feel this stretch in your quad and hip flexor
  • As you stretch, practice taking slow deep breaths; breathe out slowly as you pull your leg back more to increase flexibility

Reference

[1] Jason B Winchester, Arnold G. Nelson, Dennis Landin, Michael A. Young, Irving C. Schexnayder, "Static stretching impairs sprint performance in collegiate track and field athletes." http://hpcsport.com/publications/staticstretching2.pdf.

Topics: STRETCHING
Giovanni Grassi
- Giovanni Grassi is an NSCA-CSCS-certified sports performance specialist at the Parisi Speed School in Fair Lawn, N.J., where he trains athletes in speed and agility...
Giovanni Grassi
- Giovanni Grassi is an NSCA-CSCS-certified sports performance specialist at the Parisi Speed School in Fair Lawn, N.J., where he trains athletes in speed and agility...
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