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Switched-up lifting for running? Or maybe you're using your new-found time to increase your weekly km's...
Whatever your reason to be hitting the pavement during the lockdown, there's one thing we have in common; we all want to progress with our running times and improve our fitness whilst avoiding injury.
Without looking after your body correctly, running times will suffer and your risk of injury increases.
What Are The Most Common Injuries In Runners?
Before we delve deeper into the six best stretches for runners, we must identify the most common injuries amongst runners.
A research study that assessed injuries in runners looked at 60 club-level runners over one year. The study found that there were 55 injuries sustained across 39 athletes, with short to medium distance runners being twice as likely to sustain an injury than long-distance runners.
So, what were the most common injuries in the study?
As you may expect, lower limb injuries were prevelent, with the muscles in this section of the body contracting the most when running.
The main injury hot spots were:
- Gastrocnemius (calf)
- Hip Flexor
Why is stretching important?
Although there remains some contradiction on stretching, a recent study showed the effect stretching has on increasing flexibility and the compliance of muscle tendons; this increases the capacity of the tendon to absorb energy - a key role for the body when trying to prevent injury.
Regularly stretching can also help increase muscle pliability and reduce aching and pains in tight or problematic areas of the body.
When is the best time to stretch?
If you find yourself performing static stretches before running, it may well be time to change that habit.
A study published in 2010 showed a significant reduction in muscle force production and overall performance in runners who performed immediate pre-run static stretches, in comparison to those performing dynamic stretches.
So keep your warm-ups dynamic to prepare the muscles through replicating specific exercise movements, therefore helping to increase blood flow and prepare the body for running.
What about static stretches? These can be utilised immediately post-exercise or during periods when you are not exercising - such as when you're watching the TV or during your morning flow.
Would I benefit from performing static stretches?
Put simply, yes.
According to Healthline, the benefits associated with regularly performing static stretches include:
- Increased blood flow
- Greater flexibility and ROM (range of motion)
- Reduced pain and stiffness
- Enhanced performance
- Decreased stress
Here are 6 stretches to help avoid injury when running
Hip Flexor To Hamstring Stretch
The hip lunge exercise helps increase the flexibility and mobility of your hips and hip flexors, whilst leaning back into the hamstring stretch helps lengthen your hamstrings, back and calves - these are all areas of the body that are placed under immense stress when running.
Utilising a flow such as this one targets your body in the anterior (front) and posterior (back), helping to improve overall mobility in less time.
How To Do The Hip Flexor to Hamstring Stretch:
- Starting in the lunge position
- Place both hands in line with your front foot
- Hold the hip flexor stretch
- Rock back placing the weight on your back knee, straightening your front leg
- Keep your hands in the same position, bringing your chest down to your front leg
- Hold the hamstring stretch before returning to the start of the flow
Standing Quadriceps Hold
A classic stretch for the quadriceps, the standing quad pull helps to alleviate tension and improve flexibilty along the front of your quad. Tight quads (and hamstrings) can result in knee pain, so be sure to keep on top of these to help prevent future problems in your muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Although easy to complete, the standing quad pull will test your balance!
How To Do The standing quad stretch:
- Stand straight with your feet together
- Bend one knee and bring your heel up towards your bottom
- Grab hold of your ankle or foot
- Stand tall, keeping your bent knee inline and next to your straight leg
- To increase the stretch, apply a small amount of pressure, pulling your heel closer to your bottom
- Gently lower your leg down to the start position and repeat wiht your opposite leg
Single-leg Downward Dog To Pigeon Pose
The classic Pigeon Pose, with a unique twist. Moving from a single-leg downward dog position into the pigeon pose helps activate the glutes and stretch the hamstrings, before taking the pigeon pose position.
The Pigeon Pose helps stretch the glutes, release the hips and improve overall hip flexibility. Hold the pose for 30-40 seconds before repeating the full flow on the other leg.
How to do the single-leg downward dog to pigeon pose:
- Lie flat on your front
- Place your hands by your hips and push up into the cobra position
- From here, lift your hips and straighten your legs
- From the downward dog position, bring one leg through your arms
- Bend the front leg, so your foot is behind your opposite hand
- Lower your hips down to a seated position, with your back leg extended straight along the mat
Seated Hamstring Hold
The seated hamstring hold helps improve the flexibility of your hamstrings and lower back, and by placing some pressure on the bottom of your toes, you will also feel a stretch in the calf (gastrocnemeus).
If you can't quite reach your toes, don't worry! Just slide your hands as far down your shins as you can comfortable go, alternatively you could use a towel or resistance band to loop around your feet!
How to do the seated hamstring hold:
- Sit on a mat with your legs laying flat
- Keeping your legs straight, lean forward sliding your hands down your shins
- Stop when you start to feel a slight pull and hold that position
- Control your breathing by taking slow, deep breaths
- After holding fthe stretch for 30-40 seconds, slowly return to the start position
- Repeat 3-4 times, stretching a little further each time
The knee-to-chest stretch is super simple, and it involves lying down, which is always great news!
This particular stretch helps relieve the glutes and lower back from built up tension, increasing mobility and helping to reduce aches and pains.
How to do the knee-to-chest stretch:
- Lie flat on your back with heels resting on the floor
- Bend one leg, bringing your knee up to your chest
- Place your hands around the front of the top portion on your shin
- Pull gently to increase the stretch
- Hold for 30-40 seconds before slowly lowering your leg back to the ground
- Repeat on your opposite leg
Supine Spine Twists
Simple but effective. The Supine Spine Twist exercise is a great back stretch, lengthening the back muscles and releasing any tension in the lower back after long runs.
Oh, and this back flexibility exercise feels SO good, you'll love it.
How To Do Supine Spine Twist:
- Lie down on a mat, facing the ceiling
- Place your arms directly to the side to help stabilise your body
- Bring your knees up, creating a right angle with your legs
- Slowly lower both legs to one side, keeping your back flat on the ground and head facing upwards
- Relax the legs to the side, before slowly lifting back to the middle and repeating on the other side