The importance of stretching for runners is critical for anyone who wants to enjoy the activity for a long time and avoid any potential problems that could hinder their experience. Running is a very physically demanding sport. The repetitive motion of running and moving the body forward requires strength and coordination. It's a sport that requires the athlete to be diligent and consistent in the care of their body’s muscles, so as to avoid injuries, sprains or tears.
Runners use a large portion of the body’s muscles to help propel them forward. The swinging motion of the arms gives them momentum to move along swiftly. The lower body muscles, particularly the hamstrings and quadriceps, are critical in giving the runner the power he needs to run. Safely stretching these muscles before and after each run is crucial, because if the muscles are too tight, injuries are likely to occur.
The Benefits of Pre-Stretching
As a runner begins his stride, each strike of his foot against the contact source (treadmill, pavement, grass, etc.) causes his muscles to constrict and push together. A long, repetitive motion of this action is essentially like a rubber band being wound several times. Once it's wound too tight, it can eventually snap if not unfolded properly. Stretching before and after a run can help in several ways:
- Stretching before running helps to warm the muscles and get them ready for work.
- Pre-stretching can also help to lengthen the muscles and aid in a wider running stride.
- Post-stretching helps to pull out and lengthen the muscles that have become tightly wound from running.
Target Areas for Stretching before Running
It is recommended for runners to gently and carefully pull, lengthen and stretch out the muscles in their legs and arms. This can be done by several moves for the upper and the lower body where the runner “tugs” on the muscle group, feeling a slight pull but not discomfort or pain. Some runners say that stretching actually helps their muscles feel better after a long run and even helps them to define and tone them. The major muscles that should be targeted include:
- The thigh muscles: The brunt of the running work will come from these muscles, so it’s important to stretch them out for a good running workout. This will include the front thigh, inner thigh and the back of the legs.
- The calf muscles: Very often, runners get cramps in their calf muscles if they don’t stretch properly or often enough.
- The lower back: Often an overlooked area, the lower back absorbs a lot of the impact from running and should be stretched out to avoid any injuries.
- The neck and arms: The neck and arm muscles can become very stiff from long running. Attention to these muscle areas can ensure comfort and avoid injuries if addressed.
Running is a lot of fun, highly beneficial and usually becomes a lifestyle change for many people who want to promote better health and well-being. With a safe and productive approach to the running lifestyle, all runners should be sure to include proper stretching as a part of their regimen, to continue to enjoy it for a long time.