Running is a great way to get in shape, reduce stress, and stay healthy, but don't forget to take care of your muscles afterwards lest you push it too hard and injure yourself!
While there is no way to prevent injuries entirely, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk. For runners especially, stretching is an important step in injury reduction.
At the core of any exercise program are the concepts of alignment, balance, and proper function. Without first having a basic level of fitness in these areas, it can be dangerous to add intensity and duration to an exercise program. Stretching can be an effective way to promote balance in the body. The key is to stretch the specific muscles, which will promote balance in YOUR body.
Because running results in lower body strength gains, it is important to stretch the lower body to prevent imbalances from occurring. In addition, improved flexibility may improve your ability to move your joints through their full range of motion, which will help maximize performance (according to the Mayo Clinic).
Give these stretches a try! Better yet, try a tip from Runner’s World and perform them as AI, or “active, isolated” stretches. “These exercises move the muscle and joint gently and progressively to the point of slight tension, then immediately release the tension, and then repeat 10 times. There’s no static-stretching hold for 10 to 30 seconds.”
Hamstring- Stand with a staggered stance, front toe lifted off the ground. Keep the front leg straight as you bend the back knee slightly. Hinge forward at the hips until you feel a stretch in the back of the front leg thigh.
Hip Flexor- Stand in a lunge position with a wide stance. Drop the back knee until it rests on the floor. Keeping your chest up and spine tall, push forward through the back hip until you feel a stretch in the front of the hip.
Quadriceps- Start in the same position as the hip flexor stretch, lift your back heel toward your bum, and hold your foot in your hands behind your back. Keep your chest up and spine tall.
Gluteus Medius- From a seated straight leg position, place the outer side of one foot on the outer side of the opposite knee. Keep your hips firmly planted on the ground as you rotate your upper body toward the bent leg. Support your body by placing your back arm on the ground. Use the opposite arm to gently pull against the bent leg until a stretch is felt in your bum.
Piriformis- Sit on the ground with knees bent, and weight resting in arms. Cross the outside of one ankle over the opposite knee. Sit tall and bring your torso toward your legs until you feel a stretch deep in your bum.
Calf- Keep your heel connected with the ground, and place your toe 4-5 inches up from the base of a wall. Push your hips toward the wall until you feel a calf stretch.