By: Pamela Mazzuca HBSc. Kin, Athletic Therapist
The repetitive nature of running can leave you tighter than a drum, making stretching an absolute necessity. But the information regarding when you should stretch can be quite contradictory, leaving most people uncertain as to what to do and when to do it. This is because there are different types of stretching; some are used as a way to help increase your active range of motion while others are intended to increase the length of your tissue.
Never Stretch a Cold Muscle
You should never stretch a cold muscle. Why? Your tissue is not pliable when it’s cold, which could result in strain or tear especially in the winter. Putting your muscles under too much tension with passive, static, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), and ballistic stretching before they are warm will not help with your flexibility or your run performance. The caveat to stretching a cold muscle would be dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching will help increase blood flow to the area, while gradually increasing your working range of motion – it helps get the kinks out and preps your body for your run.
Taking the time to passively stretch after your run will improve blood flow to the muscles, which will help prevent delayed onset of muscle soreness. A regular post run stretching routine will also help prevent muscle imbalances and improve posture, which could help you become a more efficient runner who is less prone to overuse injuries.
Running exerts your muscles through a limited range of motion over and over again, encouraging a shortened range of motion, hence why stretching is so important for runners. And stretching warm and toasty muscles allows you the opportunity to improve your flexibility and release tension. This is because fascia slides better when it’s warm, improving the quality of your stretches. Be sure to stretch your hip flexors, chest, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and glutes.
Winter Warm Up
Before you head outside to brave the chilly temps be sure to do a 5-10 minute warm up indoors. Your warm up is meant to prepare you both physically and mentally for your run. It will increase your heart rate, increase blood flow to muscles, activate muscle firing patterns, increase your working range of motion, increase oxygen availability, increase lung capacity, release stored fat for energy, and increase core temperature. You should be warm but not sweating.
Before your next winter run try this warm up, do the routine twice if you need a longer warm up.
Jumping jacks – 30 seconds
Mountain climbers – 30 seconds
Leg swings – 30 seconds each leg
Lateral leg swings – 30 seconds each leg
Arm swings – 30 seconds
Knee hugs – 30 seconds each leg
Walking lunge and twist – 30 seconds