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Flexibility & Stretching for Runners

by Holli Childs

In today’s crazy world, we are constantly busy and many things are demanding our attention. There are times when I get completely overwhelmed and don’t know how to handle everything. Typically, I have plugged in my headphones and gone for a run to relieve stress and clear my head. Upon arriving home, I need to relax and get my body ready to get busy again. That is when stretching comes in handy.

Stretching is very important for various different reasons. It helps us relax physically and mentally, improve athletic performance and ability to perform activities of daily living, and reduce injury.

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Our muscles are amazing things. They contract when we need to move, but they can also relax and stretch when we need to wind down and recover. Stretching is an active form of relaxation that allows us to relieve stress, breathe deeply, and loosen up tight and sore muscles. I am not sure what it is, but during a relaxing flexibility session, I feel strong and ready to conquer the world. I am not holding my problems in my muscles anymore. The same idea applies after a hard workout. Our muscles tend to hold on to the contractions and tighten up over time when they are used in a repetitive motion like running.

Stretching slowly, for a few minutes every day can help counteract the effect on our bodies caused by tight and sore muscles.

In addition to helping us relax, stretching helps increase athletic performance and reduce injury.

Flexibility is described and a muscles ability to move within a certain range of motion around a joint. Imagine being able to extend your hips just a little bit further behind you as you push off the ground, you can get that much more power through your stride. It makes the running easier and use less energy. Being comfortable in that range of motion will allow our bodies more room to make small mistakes without extending beyond our capabilities at that joint. Imagine having to start climbing a hill. Your hip flexors become very active, and your hip extensors need to be able to compensate for that by allowing the hip flexors to shorten. If not, you will be sore and less efficient while running up the hill. Stretching also helps fix muscle imbalances caused by activities, such as running up hill, that activate some muscles more than others. As your hip flexors spend more time in the shortened position, it makes it harder for them to return to their natural length on their own, leaving your hips in a slightly flexed position that will become harder and harder over the years to correct. Stretching returns those muscles to their natural length, allowing your body to stay in normal, relaxed positions.

While stretching is very important, let me issue a couple of words of caution. If you already have an unstable joint, consult a doctor before stretching in that area. And while stretching, move slowly, do not bounce, and only extend to a point of mild tension. Stretching too far can cause muscle damage, which is contrary to the goal we have in mind.

When proper caution is used, stretching is a very good thing! To make it a little bit easier for you to get started, I have included a link with some common stretches that are very good for runners.

I have used most of them, and love them. Stretching has become the highlight of my workout on most days.

Best of luck, and happy stretching!

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