As the Fox Cities Marathon races approach, your training is progressing. You’re building up endurance and adding more miles. As part of your training, you’re diligent about getting your running in, but are you including stretching as part of your routine? Stretching is an essential part of your exercise routine. It helps reduce injury and, over the long term, it can help you run faster.
Stretching should be a part of your warm-up and cool down routines. You should focus on stretching those muscles that get the most use and strain during training as well as those during the race. It is also important to remember what you may have learned in school – do slow, gentle stretches with no bouncing. Each stretch should be held a minimum of 10 to 15 seconds and longer if the muscle feels stiff, sore, and tight. Perform each stretch three to four times. Your stretching routine should last at least five minutes.
So what areas should you focus on in your stretching?
- Hamstrings are always important and a good place to start. I recommend bending at the waist and hanging your upper body down, trying to touch the floor or your feet. When I do this in the morning before a run, I rarely touch my feet and only hang down to mid-shin. In the afternoon, it is a different story. The point is to do the stretch and not worry about whether or not you touch your toes. Also, for me I feel less discomfort and a better stretch if I do not have my knees locked and there is a slight bend.
- The lower back is another area to focus on. A series of bending side to side as well as forward and back is important. You will find this is extremely important in the morning as your back has been at rest for several hours while you’ve been sleeping.
- Next up is the thigh muscle or quadriceps. If you have run a long distance race in the past, you can likely attest to the unexpected tightness and soreness you may have experienced in your thigh muscles. To stretch these muscles, you may grab an ankle with the hand on the same side, while standing and pull the heel toward your buttocks. Another stretch is to sit on your ankles, with your knees bent and lean back. This one will take some practice.
- The lateral thigh muscles should also not be forgotten. They can be easily stretched by putting an ankle on the opposite knee (as in crossing your legs) and leaning forward at the hip. You should feel a stretch in the side of your hip on the leg that is crossing your opposite knee.
Many runners need help with stretching whether they are new to the sport or extremely experienced, but rarely took the time to perform proper stretching (I was the later). In situations like that, a yoga class may be of great benefit. I make an effort to attend at least one class a week and prefer to attend two. Since starting, I have had less discomfort running while seeing improvement in in my stretching and running ability even though I’m getting older.
Good luck with your continued training!
Dr. Mark Westfall is the Fox Cities Marathon Medical Director and an emergency physician at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah and ThedaCare Medical Center-New London and the EMS Director for Gold Cross Ambulance Service. He is an avid runner and has completed over 20 half marathons and several marathons including the Chicago Marathon, Disney Marathon and Marine Corps Marathon.