I've just started to jog, and I've heard some conflicting advice about when to stretch. Should you do it before, during or after you run? Which muscles and for how long?
To gain the most benefit from flexibility work, it's best to work with muscles when they're warm. Flexibility exercises are vital for runners, and it is all about proper timing. Think of a piece of gum. You put it in your mouth and chew it for 10 minutes - then take it out and stretch it. Voila! It stretches with ease. Take that same piece of gum out of your mouth and put it on a table, then try to stretch it 10 minutes later when it's cold. It stretches with resistance and snaps. Muscles work very much the same way.
Research shows traditional pre-run static stretching temporarily reduces muscle elasticity and thereby the strength and power. For this reason, it makes more sense to forego pre-run stretching and instead warm up by doing some brisk walking, running and dynamic stretching. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/running/warm-up-stretching-may-slow-down-your-run/article1503932 The flow of your run will be more efficient, since you won't need to circle back to stretch after you warm up, only to cool your body again.
That said, if you have tension in a muscle that doesn't release with a walking warm-up, your range of motion may be affected (a tight iliotibial band can cause knee tightness and pain). In this case, warming up through walking or even a warm shower, followed by muscle release using a foam roller, can improve range of motion and decrease the risk of injury related to poor posture and muscle tightness. This is especially true if your daily activities involve sitting for long periods of time, or standing in heels.
You can view three foam rolling exercises on this video: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/running/how-to-prep-for-your-10k-stretching-part-2/article1500914
Flexibility is vital to maintaining the mobility of your muscles and joints. After a run, do five to 10 minutes of stretching while the muscles are warm. Focus on full-body flexibility, especially the chest, hips, hamstrings and calves.
Jenny Hadfield is co-author of the Running for Mortals and Marathoning for Mortals book series and a columnist for Women's Running Magazine, RunnersWorld.com and Active.com. She is a certified personal trainer and coach and has a masters in exercise science.
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