A Little Thing That Adds Up: Stretching for Runners
Most of us grew up attending gym classes that instructed the use of static stretching pre and post-exercise. Stretching feels good and it can lead to an increased range of motion. It can also feel like an unimportant step to skip. We get it: you just ran 12, tough miles and your post-run meal and shower await you.
But there is research that shows that the increased range of motion gained from regular stretching done post-run leads to a greater stride length and rate. That means that stretching can equate to more effortless, efficient running. What runner doesn't want that?
Here is the breakdown of 2 types of post-run stretching we
use when programming for our athletes:
Static Stretching -
What it is: Static stretching is what we do when we hold a (static) position that places whatever muscle being targeted at its greatest possible length. This is what we learned growing up when our gym teacher instructed us to touch our toes and hold the pose.
Easy to perform
Stretches muscles (to an extent)
If done BEFORE a run static stretching can result in decreased performance (read some of the research here)
The "stretch reflex"* prevents the best possible stretch of the muscle being targeted.
*Our muscles come equipped with a “stretch reflex” that prevents muscles from over-stretching, and can simultaneously prevent muscles from getting a good, deep stretch. The good news is that there are ways to overcome the stretch reflex. Keep reading to find out how.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation -
What it is: The “contract/relax” method of stretching. PNF is a more advanced form of stretching that uses a brief muscle contraction to inhibit the stretch reflex mentioned above, allowing for more stretch of the targeted muscle.
Utilizing a muscle contraction temporarily inhibits the stretch reflex leading to a deeper stretch
Increase in performance when performed post-run
Stride length increase of up to 9.1% comparison to only 7.1% increase with static stretching (according to this research)
Decrease in muscular function when performed before running
Can be tricky to perform without the assistance of a personal trainer/coach
Research shows a greater increase in range of motion when using PNF stretching. Static stretching post-run is encouraged, but depending on an athlete’s goals, the more advanced PNF stretching can produce a better result.
The Moral of the Story:
Regardless of which method is used, we know that stretching is an important part of our training regimen.
Take stretching as seriously as you take strides, drills and nutrition. The little things will be worth the extra 5-minutes when they start to add up. The end result can mean bursting through a plateau with a shiny new PR, or just finishing an upcoming marathon feeling your best. Your coach wants those things for you!