By Pamela Mazzuca HBSc. Kin, Athletic Therapist
Stretching is an area most runners neglect. The information on stretching can be overwhelming and even contradictory at times. So we have created a Coles notes on stretching to help you safely incorporate stretching into your running regime.
When to use it: Pre-run to slowly warm up your muscles
What is it: Characterized by moving a body part gradually through a bigger and faster range of motion (ROM). The movements are smooth and consist of controlled arm and leg swings that gently take you to the limit of your ROM. Aim to do 8-12 reps per movement but stop if your muscles start to fatigue.
Word of Caution: Stop stretching when the muscles begin to fatigue, tired muscles have less elasticity. If you continue to stretch through fatigue you will reset the nervous control of your muscle length, decreasing your flexibility and ROM.
When to use it: Sport-specific warm ups for sports such as basketball
What is it: It relies on momentum of a limb or your body to move a muscle beyond its natural range of motion. It’s characterized by jerky and bouncy movements.
Word of Caution: Runners should avoid ballistic stretching
When to use it: After your run or workout
What is it: Slowly easing yourself into a mild stretch, holding it for 10-30 seconds and then slowly releasing the stretch. Repeating the stretch 3-4 times.
Word of Caution: Listen to your body and don’t push yourself into pain
When to use it: Yoga or martial arts
What is it: When you actively move your body into a position and then hold it there using the agonist muscle (the muscle used to get into the position) to hold your body in that position. The tension of the agonist muscle helps relax the antagonist muscle (the muscle being stretched), this phenomenon is known as reciprocal inhibition.
Word of Caution: It can be quite difficult to hold for 10 seconds and does not need to be held longer than 15 seconds.
When to use it: Post-run to help reduce muscle fatigue and soreness. It can also be useful for relieving muscle spasms.
What is it: Gradually relaxing into a position to lengthen the muscle to the point of minimal discomfort. The stretch is then held with the assistance of either another body part, apparatus (i.e. strap, floor) or partner for 10-30 seconds.
Word of Caution: Don’t force the stretch with too much resistance.
When to use it: After a dynamic strength training session
What is it: A muscle is stretched, then contracts without moving (isometric contraction), relaxes and then is further stretched. For example, you stretch your calf against the wall for a moment, then actively try and move the wall using your calf for 7 to 15 seconds, and then relax the calf for 20 seconds. Isometric stretching can decrease the amount of discomfort associated with stretching.
Word of Caution: NOT recommended for children or teens as their bones are still growing and the strong stretches produced by the isometric contraction have a much higher risk of damaging tendons and connective tissue in them.
Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF)
When to use it: Post workout or as part of injury rehabilitation
What is it: Originally developed as part of a rehab protocol for stroke patients, PNF is commonly used as a technique, combining passive and isometric stretching, to maximize flexibility. To perform contract-relax PNF, your partner will slowly ease you into a stretch and hold it for a moment. Then you will isometrically contract the stretched muscle against your partner’s resistance for 7 to 15 seconds. Release the tension to relax the muscle for 2 to 3 seconds and then stretch the muscle again, slightly farther, holding for 10 to 15 seconds.
Word of Caution: Don’t try to overpower your partner in the contraction phase of the stretch.