Runners: Tips to Get the Best Stretch

A woman stretching her hamstring.
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There’s nothing like a good stretch to feel whole. And if you’re a runner, the right stretches at the right times may even boost your strength, flexibility and peak performance. While there are numerous types of stretching, we’ll focus on two of the most common: static and dynamic.

Much like their names imply, static stretching is a passive movement while dynamic stretching is much more active. Static stretching impacts the flexibility of the specific muscle you target, while dynamic stretching increases your mobility in a variety of muscle groups.

Let’s take a closer look at static and dynamic stretching.

Static Stretching

Static stretching is what we picture most commonly when we think about stretching. You probably remember a gym class where you stood or sat and held a stretch to reach your toes, or propped your leg up on a bench to stretch out your hamstring. Static stretches are usually held from 15 to 60 seconds, and you’ll need to target each muscle individually that you want to stretch.

Pros and Cons of Static Stretching

Static stretching may improve blood flow to tight, sore areas and can promote feelings of well-being. Focus your efforts on the major running muscles including the glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves. Foam rolling can be used to complement your static stretching routine.

When it comes to injury prevention and preparing your body for a workout, however, static may be less beneficial. In addition, too much or too aggressive stretching may strain a muscle or hinder your strength and efficiency if done before a speed workout.

Albert Wong, a physical therapy assistant with AdventHealth, notes that “static stretching is more effective following activity. Stretching before a run or race can decrease performance.”

When and How to Static Stretch

If you love to stretch, there’s still a place for static stretching in your training routine. For many, stretching can help boost feelings of recovery and relaxation, which are also important components of a well-rounded training regimen.

Static stretching is safest and most effective after a run, when your muscles are already loose and warm. Hold your stretches for about one minute –less than this won’t bring many benefits, and any longer may strain your muscle. Keep in mind that flexibility can be lost quickly if you don’t keep stretching regularly, so be cautious if you are doing it intermittently.

Dynamic Stretching

Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching involves moving your muscles through a range of motion while you stretch them. Dynamic stretching works best as a warmup for a sports-specific activity, such as running, though it can also be used after a run to transition your body back to less strenuous activity.

Wong notes that, “Dynamic stretching helps warm up the muscles and can help optimize one’s performance during a race. When done correctly, it helps with strength and muscle activation.”

To be most effective, the motions and muscle groups should be similar to the ones you’ll use during the workout itself. For example, jogging slowly in place with high knees might be used to prepare your body for a 100-meter sprint.

Pros and Cons of Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic mobility exercises prepare your body to run and offer multiple benefits as a warmup, including:

  • Raising your heart rate
  • Lubricating your joints
  • Increasing elasticity in your connective tissues
  • Priming muscles for work
  • Raising your core temperature

Although dynamic stretching isn’t meant to be a workout, some movements such as lunges add a strength element to your warmup that build endurance and assist with injury prevention. Dynamic movements also help your brain communicate more readily with your muscles, and these neuromuscular benefits will continually benefit your running efficiency.

Dynamic stretching is generally considered very safe, as you are moving your body through its normal range of motion rather than trying to push beyond it. It also works multiple muscles in contrast to static stretching, which focuses on one muscle at a time.
Always start slowly as you ease your body into a warmup routine and use proper form, especially when practicing new movements.

When and How to Stretch Dynamically

A dynamic warmup followed by one to two miles of easy running is the best way to prepare your body for whatever type of run you may be tackling. What does this look like in practice?

While there are endless options for mobility routines, two common and effective options include lunges (in a variety of planes of motion) along with leg swings (both front to back and side to side).

A quality dynamic warmup can be completed within 10 minutes, though you can certainly go longer if you have the time. Although runners are often on a tight schedule trying to achieve maximum mileage each week, finding the time for a dynamic routine can be well worth it. It can allow you to run more comfortably and efficiently right from the start, and over time, can help increase your durability.

Run with This Takeaway

For those who love static stretching, be sure to stretch when your body is warm and loose, and never stretch to the point of feeling pain.

Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, should be part of every pre-run routine to offer more strength, efficiency and even neuromuscular communication.

Athletic trainers and physical therapists can help you achieve your running goals by helping you build strength, flexibility and staying injury-free. Learn how our experts at AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab can help you.

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