Stretching Exercises and Why They are Vital
It doesn’t matter whether you are embarking on your first or your five hundredth run: you’ve got to pay attention to stretching exercises because otherwise you won’t get far down the road or track before you are pulling up.
The muscles and tendons particularly at the back of the legs, need to be coaxed into taking on the extra work involved in running, otherwise they are likely to suffer damage that could leave you nursing an injury for days, even weeks.
Quite simply, the normal physical manoeuvres of every day life do not prepare your body for the heightened demands of moving at speed. Think of a rubber band that is of normal length. Take the two ends and gradually and progressively ease them further and further apart until the band is twice as long as it was originally. Contrast that with trying to achieve that extra length by means of a sudden and violent pulling action: that is what you would be attempting if you set off on a run without first stretching. Sounds like a bad idea, doesn’t it?
Keeping Your Foot FlatStretching does not require any specialist equipment. For example, for loosening the lower back, lean against a wall and gradually move your hands down until your torso is at a right angle to your legs. The wall, or a tree if you are outside, can be used for a range of other areas, too. For example, with the upper calf muscles, lean against the wall and extend each leg in turn backwards, keeping your rear foot flat on the floor and taking the weight on the opposite leg. You will feel the pull on the back of the calf as it begins to extend.
For the lower calf and Achilles tendon, the same routine is used but with the knee of the extended leg slightly bent in order to make the lower half of the leg do the work.
For the quadriceps, or the muscles at the front of the thigh that extend and straighten the knee joint, put your left hand against the surface, lift your right leg and gripping it with the right hand pull it back and up, touching your bottom with the heel. Repeat this procedure with the other leg.
Shaking Away the TensionAnother important area, the hamstrings, can be stretched by lying flat on your back, raising one leg and pulling it back towards your chest using both hands and holding the position for 10 seconds, again repeating the procedure for the opposite leg. Other areas that require attention include the hips and outer thighs, and don’t forget to loosen both the arms and chest, shaking away the tension that can build up from, for example, sitting at a desk and using a computer.
Stretching exercises are simple and easy to learn, but they must be executed correctly. If you enrol with a running club or gym prior to beginning your routine, ask one of the instructors to run through the exercises with you. If you are a self-starter, look in the Yellow Pages and find a freelance fitness coach with whom you can book a session. While running manuals often illustrate the basics, there is no-one there to tell you if you are executing a particular stretch correctly. Once you have mastered the basics, make sure you follow them both before and after every run. You will feel the benefit, and so will your body.