One of the most important things for a runner to do (that they often forget to do) during and after exercising is stretch. There are endless benefits to stretching and it can be quite relaxing… I know – some people “don’t have time” to stretch, but it really should be included in your athletic or exercise time. It is recommended that you do not stretch without warming up a bit first. Stretching your muscles cold could lead to injury. Do some jumping jacks, or walk a bit before you pick up the pace. Anything to get your body warm first will definitely help your stretch. I also enjoy stretching after I’ve done my cardio. I find that my muscles are very warm, and it is a great time to cool down from the high intensity. Including stretching in your routine will improve your blood flow and flexibility. This will help you while running and in your everyday actions. Here are a few stretches that are great for athletes.
Achilles Tendon Stretch: The achilles tendon is what attaches your calf muscle to your heel bone. Your achilles tendon can get tight if you run or play a sport that involves running. This is a great stretch to do on your stairs. Find an elevated “step” such as a curb or sturdy box that you can stand on. Step on the elevated surface with just your toes, letting your heels hang off the surface. Bend your left leg slightly letting your right heel stretch towards the floor, keeping your right leg straight. Hold for 30-45 seconds, then switch legs by bending your right leg and straightening your left. Continue to have your heels hang off the edge of the surface and hold for 30-45 seconds. Repeat the stretch on both sides if needed.
Hamstring Stretch: This is one of my favorites. Sit down on the floor or ground. Extend your right leg out at about a 45 degree angle (in between being directly out in front of you and extended all the way to the right of you) and tuck your left leg in towards your body. Keeping your hips square (have your chest facing your right foot) bend your body over your right leg and stretch your hands towards your right foot. Hold the stretch for 30-45 seconds, then repeat by extending your left leg out in a 45 degree angle and tucking your right leg in. Keeping your hips square by facing your chest towards your left foot, bend your body over your left leg and stretch your hands towards your left foot. Hold for 30-45 seconds and repeat the stretch on both sides if needed.
A Second Hamstring Stretch: Standing up, cross your right leg over your left, then proceed by bending over to aim to touch your toes. It’s okay if you don’t touch your toes, as long as you feel the stretch! Hold this for 30-45 seconds then repeat by switching your left leg over your right. Bend over, hold for 30-45seconds and repeat the stretch on both sides if needed.
Quadricep Stretch: If you have trouble balancing, find a wall or surface to hold onto during the stretch. Standing up, bring your right heel up towards your behind. Grab your right heel with your right hand and pull upward towards your body. Hold for 30-45 second, then switch legs by bringing your left heel up towards your behind. Hold again for 30-45 seconds and repeat the stretch on both sides if needed.
Hip Flexor Stretch:Begin by getting down on your left knee. Extend your right leg out further away from you, but keep your foot planted on the ground. Then bend your right knee, allowing you to stretch forward and bring your hips lower to the ground. You will be able to judge how far your right leg needs to be away from you to feel the stretch in your left hip flexor. Hold for 30-45 seconds. Repeat by getting on your right knee. Extend your left leg out further away from you, keeping your foot planted on the ground. Bend your left knee allowing you to stretch forward and bring your hips lower to the ground. Hold the stretch for 30-45 seconds feeling it in your right hip flexor this time. Repeat on both sides if needed.
Tricep Stretch: Begin by bringing your right arm up above your head with your palm facing behind you. Bend your right arm at the elbow and grab your right elbow over your head with your left hand. Feel the stretch in your right tricep by gently pushing your elbow behind you. Hold for 30-45 seconds and repeat on the other side. Raise your left arm up above your head with your palm facing behind you. Bend your left arm at the elbow and grab your left elbow over your head with your right hand.