You can’t throw a running shoe at your computer screen without hitting a thousand articles about the benefits of running. Most of us are aware by now of how running can improve your circulation and cardiovascular system, help you lose weight, and by extension, extend your lifespan. But what we don’t hear enough about is how important flexibility is in keeping your body in top condition to complete those runs. Flexibility is the key to a lifetime of beneficial running! No matter for competition or pleasure, there’s no better way to build flexibility than with professional stretches before running.
StretchZone is the mega-hub for assisted stretching! We are here to provide some valuable insight into the ways you can improve your form and avoid the negative effects of running in the body.
Flexibility Starts with a Stretch…Or Several
The secret to keeping your body flexible, increasing your range of motion, reducing your risk of injury, and improving your overall performance is by doing full-body stretching sessions regularly. To make this happen, you’ll want the help of a certified and experienced stretch practitioner who knows how to position, stabilize, isolate, and manipulate your muscles in a purposeful order.
Runners who are serious about enhancing their performance should do this and a few other pre-run stretches to increase their blood circulation and activate their muscles’ firing patterns.
Understanding the Connection Between Flexibility and Running
What Happens When You Run?
To understand why flexibility is so important to running, first, you must understand what happens when you run. You see, running is a unilateral exercise. In layman’s terms, this means that it uses a single limb in a repetitive motion. So, when you run, one leg lands in front of the other and so on. Anything else you do with your body is not required.
As each foot strikes the ground, the impact sends small shocks through your body. Starting at the heal, and working up your calf, knees, and thighs, that shock makes its way up to your back and neck – hitting just about every major joint along the way.
This energy has two effects on your body:
- It causes microscopic damage to your joints
- Makes your muscles tense up
This is because your body is absorbing all this energy along the way.
The Role of Flexibility
There’s no escaping the energy your body is absorbing during your runs. As long as there is gravity, your body will continue to feel the impact of each step. However, being inflexible makes it much, much worse.
It’s helpful to think of your body as a spring. A new spring can absorb energy and exert it right back. However, an old, rusted, and stiff spring can only absorb so much energy before the structure gives way and it completely breaks.
When your muscles are loose, your body can absorb each shock and send the energy right back. This helps protect the joints that take the most punishment such as the ankles and knees. Moreover, your hips, which are responsible for maintaining balance and absorb much of the vibrations in your movement, tend to compensate when your body is stiff. You might not feel it right away, but over time, you’ll start noticing aches and pain you never did before. Furthermore, as you get older, other more serious health issues may begin to arise.
Improving Your Flexibility
The good news is that improving your flexibility is quite simple – stretches before running. This does not require you to take any supplements or undergo special medical procedures. Simple stretches, especially assisted stretches, can improve your range of motion and your body’s ability to absorb the impact from your runs.
Why Do I Need Assisted Stretches Before Running?
You might be asking – why can’t I just stretch at home by myself? That’s a good question and the answer is simple. You should. However, what many people don’t understand is that the benefits your get from stretching is substantially amplified during an assisted stretch session.
When you stretch at home you have several barriers to overcome.
First, is the general lack of knowledge most people have when it comes to stretching. Many of us don’t know where to start or how our bodies are supposed to move. This opens the possibility for injuries that can prevent you from running altogether.
Secondly, you probably don’t have the right equipment at home. Not that equipment is necessary, but having certain rollers and specialized tables help tremendously in releasing tension and moving your joints in the most beneficial ways.
Finally, and this is perhaps the most important reason assisted stretches before running are essential – your tonus.
What is Tonus?
Tonus is the name for the state of tension your muscles have. In essence, this function is a natural resistance to stretching. Basically, this is how your body prevents you from overstretching and harming yourself. Whenever your limbs or joints are pushed too far, the tonus kicks in, tightening your muscles.
Although this is great in the sense that it serves to protect you, this natural reflex also prevents you from reaching those deeper stretches that have the most benefits. This is the role of assisted stretching.
Since you are not required to put in any effort or engage your muscles, our professional stretch practitioners can move your bodies in ways you would not be able to yourself. This helps release the tension you can’t on your own and complete the stretches that carry the most benefit.
So, Which Assisted Stretches are Best for Running?
Now that you understand the relationship between flexibility and running, let’s go over some of the best stretches to do before running when you stop by StretchZone.
As we mentioned, your hips bear much of the brunt when running. Having flexible hips can prevent your body from compensating and throwing off your balance.
Abductor and Adductor Stretches
The abductor muscle lies on the outer part of your thigh–right where it meets the hip and connects the two. Your adductor plays a similar role except for its location on your upper, inner thigh, and connects your thigh bone to your hip. These two muscles are essential in your hip movement and flexibility.
Stretches for these muscle groups usually involve lying down on a specialized table and letting your body release while you breathe. Then one of our trained stretch practitioners will take your legs through a series of movements.
They may put pressure on your legs as they push into your chest or extend your legs to either side of your body. This will create a release of tension at the junction of your thigh and hip, improving your flexibility. Therefore, this an excellent stretch to do before running.
Some of the common variations of abductor and adductor stretches are the assisted leg swings. In this case, our therapists will take one of your legs and slowly swing it over the other while your other leg remains stabilized and the rest of your body is prevented from moving.
Your back takes quite a big hit when you run. With each impact of your feet on the ground, your spine compresses, and releases. Over time, this robs you of flexibility and creates unhealthy tightness that leads to lower back pain and a decrease in mobility.
Lower Back Stretches
Some of the most common lower back stretches for running include the supine twist and butterfly.
The supine back twist is quite simple. First, you will lie on your back with your arms and legs outstretched. Then one of our therapists will ask you to bend your knee and place that foot flat on the ground. At this point, they will take the bent leg and turn it over your opposing leg while your back remains flat on the floor and immobile. This creates a twisting motion that is excellent for alleviating back pain and increasing mobility in the area.
The butterfly stretch is another popular maneuver to increase lower back flexibility. For this one, you will sit on the table with the soles of your feet touching and your knees splayed out to either side. Then you will be asked to fold forward as one of our stretch practitioners applies gentle pressure. You will then be asked to slowly inhale and exhale, gaining length with each inhale and releasing tension with each exhale.
‘Shoulders’ might not be the first thing you associate with running, but the truth is that your entire body feels the impact of your stride. In fact, many runners report shoulder pain after a long route and it’s often a result of carrying too much tension in their upper body. Another reason for shoulder pain after a run is an improper swing of the arms.
What these factors have in common is a general imbalance of the body induced by a lack of flexibility. The best way to prevent these issues and alleviate shoulder pain is with professionally assisted stretches before and after running.
The two most common stretches for this type of pain are cross-body shoulder stretches and overhead shoulder stretches.
For cross-body stretches all you have to do is lay back on our table and cross one arm across your body. Then one of our assigned stretch therapists will apply gentle pressure on your upper shoulder in a downward motion, slowly releasing the pent-up tension. After holding the stretch for ten seconds you will switch arms and repeat.
Overhead shoulder stretches are just as effortless. From a laying position, simply stretch your arm parallel with your head and straight back behind you. Then, bend your forearm at the elbow to bring the palm of your hands just over your head.
At this point, our stretch practitioner will push inward and down on your elbow, stretching your shoulders further over your head. After doing both sides, you will notice a significant difference in how your shoulders sit at a rested position.
No stretches for running would be complete without a focus on legs. Naturally, these extremities carry your weight and most of the impact on your runs. Therefore, keeping flexible here is most important to avoid injury.
Hamstrings need special attention because they are responsible for maintaining much of the strength in your legs. Flexible hamstrings not only protect your knees, but they can also help distribute weight evenly across both your legs and soften the blow of each step. This is crucial in preventing lower back pain.
We are going to highlight two stretches for efficiently releasing tension in the hamstring. These are used to form solid foundations for increased flexibility: the simple hamstring stretch and isolated leg raises.
The simple hamstring stretch is one of the most easily recognized hamstring stretches to do before running. You simply sit up on our table with your back as straight as possible and both legs outstretched before you. Then you will slowly begin to lean forward, leading with your chest.
When you have gotten as far as your body allows, that’s when our therapists will assist in placing a small amount of pressure on your back, helping you fall deeper into the stretch. As with all these exercises, breathing will help release more tension.
The isolated leg raise requires almost zero effort on your part. Simply lay flat on the table with both arms and legs outstretched. While keeping your leg as straight as possible (do not bend your knee) our practitioner will take hold of your heel and use it to pull your leg upwards. The rest of your body should remain relaxed and allow your breathing to hold you steady as your leg is pushed further up. After holding the position for a few seconds, we will move onto the next leg for the same effect.
Want to Learn More About Assisted Stretches to do Before Running?
Our goal here at StretchZone is to keep your body strong and in the healthiest condition for a lifetime. Our professionally assisted stretches can help you maintain flexibility, leading to longer runs with less pain and a decreased risk of injury.
If you are ready to make a positive change in the way your body feels, moves, and responds to stresses, like those from running, visit us at StretchZone for a free 30-minute stretch!