You. Your Sneakers. The Pavement.
It’s a match made in heaven.
If you’ve recently taken up running as a healthful hobby, you’ve probably been riding high on the endorphins the body naturally dishes out during and after this cardiovascular exercise.
Now that you’ve stocked up on cold-weather running gear and mapped out your running routes for the week, you might be wondering what else you can do to turn this new hobby up a notch and make it a habit.
Using the right warmup can make or break your running, and incorporating dynamic stretches into your warmup routine is a great way to increase the length of your stride and the fluidity of your running.
For even the most novice of runners, there are plenty of convincing reasons to start a dynamic stretching warmup routine today.
Stretching For Better Running Performance
To improve your running performance, it’s critical that you do the right type of stretching. Research shows that the old-school “hold it for 20 seconds and then move to the next stretch” style of static stretching before a workout actually does not improve your athletic performance.
I know, I know, you’re just as surprised as your high school gym teacher about this busted myth, aren’t you?
Dynamic stretching – stretching during movement through the range of motion of that particular joint – is what you need if you want to run faster or farther. The beauty of dynamic stretching is that it imitates movements similar to those that you’ll do during the activity itself.
So forget about stretching by holding still; instead, you need to think of stretching as movement. Your warmup could still consist of your favorite leg lifts or toe touches, but you need to be sure that they’re active and not passive.
Can Some Stretching Still Prevent Injury?
Even beginning runners are susceptible to injuries, with some studies showing up to 45% of all runners experiencing an injury within a year. Logging plenty of miles on the pavement – or the trails – can lead to many different types of problems. Some of the most common running injuries are plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, and calf muscles injuries.
For many years the belief that stretching will prevent injury was promoted by mass media and running coaches everywhere. However, research shows that stretching actually does not provide any significant degree of protection from running injury. In fact, holding still for too long in a static stretch can actually weaken the muscle-tendon connection.
So now you know that injury prevention isn’t the primary goal of your stretching, but dynamic stretching is still an important component of an active, movement-based warmup prior to running.
Which Are The Best Stretches For Runners?
Alright, now that we’ve settled on the fact that dynamic stretching is way more important than static stretching for runners, which dynamic stretches are best for your warm up? These three stretches are excellent choices for opening up the hips and lengthening the muscles of the thighs and calves.
Stretch #1: Leg Swings
Begin standing with one hand on a wall, tree, or fence post. Lift your opposite leg and swing it in front of you, keeping it as straight as possible, then swing it behind you. Engage your core and allow your leg to move freely through the stretch. Allow your foot to move as high as is comfortable for you. Continue the swinging for 10 to 12 reps, then switch to the other side by turning around and placing the opposite hand on to whatever you’re using for stability.
Stretch #2: Plantar Flexor Stretch
Begin by standing tall with your hands on your hips and feet together. Raise your right foot a few inches, keeping your knee straight and toe pointed. Flex your foot, pointing your toes upward. Then point the toes back toward the ground. Repeat the flex and point for 10 to 12 repetitions. Return to standing position, then repeat on the other foot.
Stretch #3: High Knees
This can be done by jogging in place or while moving forward. Begin in a runner’s stance, standing upright, then kick your heels up toward your butt in an exaggerated running motion. Start slowly as your hamstrings and glutes warm up, then gradually increase the movement until you’re raising your knees as high as you comfortably can on each upswing. Do 10–12 reps on each side.
How To Incorporate These Stretches Into Your Running Routine
There you have it, that’s your quick and simple dynamic stretching warmup.
While research doesn’t support static stretching as a method of injury-prevention, when you weave dynamic stretching into your warmup it has wide-reaching positive effects.
Making time for a sports massage before your next footrace is another great way to ease your nerves and loosen up any tension you’re holding so that your big day is nothing but good times and victory laps.
As always, it’s important to pay attention to your body. Listen to the cues your body gives you during your runs – do you feel a little tense in your inner calves? Sore in the soles of your feet? Notice how your body communicates its needs, and give more attention to those areas the next time that you’re warming up.