Stretch, Squeeze and Roll

Not to be confused with “stop, drop and roll” which we all learned in second grade.  Yes, that is a very good mantra to remember.  Very good.  But I rarely catch on fire while running, so this mantra, “stretch, squeeze and roll” specifically for our running muscles, is our focus of these next few weeks.  

First up in this string of a few related articles. 

Week 4.  Stretching.  

The opinions on runners and stretching is kind of like the ongoing debate on eating eggs.  One minute the news tells me scientist have discovered that my morning scramble is the key to optimum health; the next minute the scientist change their mind, the news reports it, and I fear that my hard boiled breakfast will surely kill me later on that day.  Like eggs, the opinions on stretching are all over the place too, so let’s just be practical with some underlying facts.  

So there is two types of stretching - 1) dynamic stretching and 2) static stretching.  

Dynamic stretching is working your muscles and raising your heart rate at the same time with quick movements.  RUNaway training often incorporates dynamic stretching in our Wednesday speed and strength days before our runs that include high marching knees, then butt kicks, then side shuffles.  The idea is to warm up your body with a greater range of motion than walking so you are really really ready for your speed or hill workout.  

The other side of the coin is static stretching.  This type of stretch is a slow, controlled stretch that your body eases into to lengthen your muscles and tendons which in turn makes a runner more flexible.  It is a lot easier to do a static stretch when your muscles are warm (ie, post workout) because of the blood circulation in and around each muscle.

So what’s the dealio?, you ask.  "Do I REALLY have to stretch? (pleasesayno pleasesayno pleasesayno)"  

Based on my research and running experience, I happen to be in the “yes to stretching” camp.  I’m a fan of dynamic stretching before certain runs because it definitely warms up the body safely, incorporates a good focus on form, and even puts the runner in a mental focus that this run is going to be a good one.  And then post run, I’m also a fan of static stretching for the sole purpose that it lets me personally focus on my body and how it is balancing and reacting to that run.  Guess what?  I don’t religiously stretch after every run.  There, I said it.  I don’t even have a medical or scientific excuse as to this except to say that after a run, I’m done.  Feeling obligated to do another workout (even stretching) AFTER high-fiving at the finish line.  Ugh.  That stinks.  But I do static stretch after every few runs just to keep tabs and it’s a good habit to get into.  What feels tight?  Does anything hurt?  Where did I forget to shave my leg?  All can be answered with a few simple static stretches.

It’s important to note that it is recommended to do dynamic stretches before a run when your body is fresh and not fatigued and to do static stretches after a run when your muscles are warm and have a greater blood circulation.  A post workout static stretch should engage your muscle with a feeling of light tension but never ever a burning sensation.  And you should never bounce through a stretch.  No no.  Just inhale and engage in the stretch on your exhale for a wider range of motion.  Relax your body and take note on the areas that are tighter.  Go ahead and stretch those areas again.

For my post run stretch, I do a little “head to toe” checkup.  10 simple stretches.  Just do it - it’ll only take you 10-15 minutes.  Watch terrible reality tv while you stretch.  Tell your kids and husband it's part of the workout that your coach prescribed.  See - multitasking!  

1.) Start with your neck and roll your head fully and gently in three circles both clockwise and counter clockwise.  Full range of motion trying to get your head, ears and chin to touch your body if possible.  Go slow. 


2.) Then shoulder shrugs.  Three to the back, three to the front.  Big slow circles.  

3.) Next upper back.  Find a wall to press your hands against as your hands are at chest/sternum level.  Standing still, try to move that wall engaging your upper back.  Even better, find a column or something sturdy to hold on to at chest level.  Wrap your arms around it and lean back stretching your upper back. 


4.) Onto lower back.  Standing straight with your knees slightly bent, slowly bend and the waist and relax and hang with a curved back.  You should feel this in your lumbar area.  If you feel it in your hamstrings, bend your knees more for a back stretch.  Come up from this position very slowly.  Blood rushing out of your head as you become upright can land you straight on the ground if you come up too quick.  And it’s really lame to tell someone that you got hurt or passed out from stretching.

Now for the major running muscles.  

5.) Hips.  Your hip flexors are stretched by getting into a runners sprint position.  Get in a “half kneel” position that looks like a guy proposing.  Now move the leg with the knee on the ground back keeping the top of your foot on the ground and possibly raising your back knee.  You’ll feel this in the inner thigh of the straightened leg and the hip of the bent leg.  

6.) Glutes.  Standing up, cross one ankle over your other knee (like a guy crosses his legs) and bend at the waist with a flat back.  Hold for 10 seconds and switch legs.  Glutes are often very tight on runners.  It’s a, if not THE, major running muscle.  Stretch again, if needed.  

Next up - legs.  

7.) Quadriceps first.  Standing straight, reach your arm out behind you and grab an ankle of one leg.  Left it where your knee is pointing straight down.  Do not pull on it or overextend it.  For a deeper stretch, tilt your pelvis forward a bit.  Switch legs.  

8.) And now Hammies.  Also called hamstrings, these are the leg muscles that power you up hills and are often tight like your glutes.  You’ll want to stretch them a leg at a time to not favor a dominant leg.  Standing straight, cross your legs at the ankles with your shoes still touching and your feet still flat on the ground.  Bend down slowly with a flat back.  Don’t push too hard or bounce.  Switch legs.  

9.) Okay, calves.  Calves tend to carry a lot of pain in runners.  Being in the back of our legs, they work as our ankles flex with each step.  And the front of our lower legs, our shins, take a good deal of the impact as our feet reach the ground on each step.  Be kind to your calves as they have a direct correlation often to how your heels often feel.  And here’s the stretch.  Standing up, put one foot in front and one foot in back, both flat on the ground.  Bend the front knee while still standing straight.  If you can’t stand straight, move the back leg further back until you feel a stretch.  The back leg needs to be straight.  Hold for 20 seconds.  Now, on the same leg, slightly bend your back knee.  Hey, that’s another stretch.  And now, with both knees bent, try to lift up your toes of your back leg.  You’ve now stretched your calf, achilles and shin.  Switch legs.  

10.) And finally, as your last “stretch” roll both ankles in a circular motion and scrunch up your toes inside your shoe on both sides.  

And you are done!  Fully body stretch assessment!  Are you still feeling tight somewhere?  Gently stretch it again.