Stretching improves flexibility, which in turn helps prevent injuries. Less injuries equal better training and stronger running. Stretching should only be done on warm muscles. One thing I do not recommend, however, is stretching after your long run. If you've been running for a few hours, your body is fatigued and there are microtears in the tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Instead of stretching, take an ice bath to reduce inflammation. Then, later in the day, do some gentle stretching. There are all kinds of great stretches for runners, but I've listed just a few of my favorites.
Hamstring stretch with a towel: Roll a towel up to form a sort of rope. Lie with back flat on the floor. Lift one knee toward the chest and put the towel around the ball of the foot. Hold the ends of the towel and slowly straighten the leg into the air with the foot facing the ceiling. Pull on the ends of the towel down and pull your toes toward the shin. Then you can pull the ends of the towel up toward your face, which will pull the leg more toward your head. Try to hold each stretch for fifteen to thirty seconds. A tight hamstring can cause knee problems, so this one is a must after running.
Cat & cow stretch: Get on all fours with knees directly below the hips and hands directly below the shoulders. Round the back and drop the head toward the floor. Hold for a second or two. Then arch the back and lift the head. Hold for a second or two. Keep alternating. This is a great stretch for the back.
Standing glute stretch: A tight glute can cause all kinds of pain, including lower back pain. To do this one, stand with one hand on a chair for support. While standing, bring the left ankle up and rest it on the front of the right thigh. Your left knee should be bent and pointed out to the side. From this position, swing the butt back and bend the right knee, as if you were about to sit in a chair. Hold this for about 15 seconds. You should feel a nice pull in the back of the leg.
Written by Genie Bianchi, RRCA Coach