Stretching can be one of the most beneficial things for a runner to do after any run, but it is often the overlooked part of the cool-down.
It helps to reduce muscle tension after a run, improving blood flow and aiding the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system) in its recovery after the stress caused by a run. Stretching also improves a coordination (we’ve all hopped about trying to stretch a quad) and helps prevent injuries by giving you the opportunity to spot early indications of a niggle. It can also decrease postrun soreness.
If you are new to running, it can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to your postrun stretch, so to simplify things, we spoke to physiotherapist Christopher Pettit, from Movement Perfected to find the best postrun stretching exercises.
How to stretch properly:
- Stretch a joint to the limits of your normal range: do not force a stretch.
- Mild soreness should take no longer than 24 hours to resolve after stretching. If more recovery time is necessary, the stretching force was excessive.
- If you’re not used to regular stretching, we’d suggest maintaining a stretch for 10-15 seconds initially and gradually increases to 45-60 seconds over 4-5 weeks.
- Breathing – inhale through the nose and exhale through pursed lips during a stretch. You may wish to close your eyes to increase concentration and awareness during the lying stretches.
- The best stretches for beginner runners to focus on:
The best stretches for beginner runners to focus on:
1. Standing calf stretch
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart
- Place the stretching leg behind
- Place your feet, knees and hips straight forward
- Lean forward, keeping both heels on grounded to feel stretch in the calf
2. Flexed calf walkout
- Walk your hands onto the floor
- Push your hips as high as you feel comfortable
- Walk on the spot, alternating dropping the heel to the ground to stretch the calf muscles
- Roll through your whole foot
- Adaptation – put your hands on a higher surface for an easier version
3. Thigh/quadriceps stretch
- Lie on your side
- Bend your bottom knee up to keep your back flat
- Reach behind to grab hold the ankle of the top leg and pull it back behind you
- Pull back the leg until you feel the stretch in the front of your thigh. Do not extend through the back
4. Glute and lower hamstring stretch
- Lie on your back with one knee bent. Pull one thigh up to your chest
- Keep the foot flexed and gradually lift up the lower leg while keeping your thigh close to you
- The stretch should be felt in your upper thigh and glutes
5. Hamstring stretch
- Following on from above
- Straighten out your leg
- Flex your foot towards you
- Gently pull your leg towards you until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg
- Keep your other leg bent to support you
6. Piriformis/outer hips stretch
- Cross one ankle onto the opposite thigh.
- Using your hand, slowly push your knee away from you
- You will feel the stretch on the outside of your hip
- Adaptation – decrease the angle created by the resting leg
7. Adductor/inner thigh stretch
- Sit tall
- Bring the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to drop out to each side
- Apply pressure with the elbows on your knees
- Adaptation – sit on a raised surface
- You will feel the stretch on the inside of your thigh
8. Psoas/hip flexor stretch
- Place one knee back, foot flat on the floor
- Keep your hips square
- Lunge forward, squeeze your glutes and lean back slightly
- Push your back foot into the floor
- You will feel stretch in the front of your hip and thigh
9. Lower back and chest stretch
- Lie with your knees and hips bent at 90 degrees, arms out to the side
- Slowly lower your legs to the floor
- Repeat on the other side
- Adaptation – place a pillow under the legs and lower your arm