Stretch Myth Busters: Stretch Longer on Race Days
Most people know how essential a full-body stretch is after a workout, sport, or other physical activity. If you’re a runner, you’ve probably heard countless times how important it is for you to stretch to maintain your flexibility and reduce your chances of getting injured. Not knowing the best ways to stretch and prepare for your race can result in you not performing as well as you want or even hurting yourself.
Let’s go over how long you should stretch on your race days, how to properly prepare for one, and other things you can do to improve your running and athletic skills.
Should Runners Stretch Longer on Race Days?
Everyone wants to perform their best during a marathon, so they take all the advice they can to boost their performance. Many people mistakenly believe that runners should perform static stretches before running. Others also think you should be doing it for longer on the day you’re supposed to run a race.
Studies have found that too much static stretching can temporarily reduce muscle strength. This is because you are at a greater risk of overstretching, which can cause the affected muscle to become less functional. Overstretched muscles can result in fascial tissues losing their ability to recoil. As you can imagine, this significantly impacts how well a runner can perform.
You should be saving static stretches until after a race when your muscles are already warm. Doing so can help you with your recovery. The ideal thing to do before a race is to warm up with dynamic stretches, since those moves get your body moving in ways that closely resemble the activity you’re about to perform.
For runners, this may include jogging, high knees, or butt kicks. How long you warm up depends on the duration of the race. You should start doing so at least two and a half hours before a marathon and about 45 minutes before a shorter race.
The Right Way to Prepare for a Race
Yes, there is a right way to train and prepare for a race. Knowing how to properly warm up for one can help you perform your best. It’ll be in your best interest to work with a professional to help develop a particular training routine based on the race you’ll be participating in, your current experience with running, and the goals you wish to achieve.
Since all that will be different for everyone, your training program will not be the same as someone else’s. Though there are certain things everyone who is preparing for a race or marathon should be doing to help them perform their best. These include:
You never want to start a run before warming up with some dynamic stretches. This helps prepare your body for the stress it’s about to endure. Warmups can improve your blood flow, which can positively impact your performance. It also provides numerous mental health benefits, which can affect your performance as well.
You want to make sure you’re warming up the proper way, otherwise it could give you the opposite effect of what you’re trying to achieve during your race. For example, you could put more strain on your body if it doesn’t get a chance to prepare for the run.
Carb loading is a technique that involves increasing your carbohydrate intake to maximize your glycogen stores. People do this to prepare for long endurance events like 5K and 10K races. It’s known to help delay fatigue and maximize your performance during your run.
Runners should start increasing their carbohydrate intake about three days before their race for best results. It should consist of mainly complex carbs for the first day and simple carbs for the next two days before your race.
We cannot stress this enough. Runners must hydrate before, during, and after a race. Dehydration can have a significant impact on your performance and even your health. Here are some of the many benefits of having adequate hydration:
- Improved recovery
- Minimized chance of injury or cramping
- Maximized performance
- Regulates body temperature
- Removes waste
- Helps bring energy
Be careful not to over-hydrate. Too much water can cause your cells to swell, which can be fatal.
Get Enough Sleep
The last thing you want is to feel fatigued during a big race, so make sure to prioritize sleep. While training for your race, you should aim to get between seven to eight hours of sleep each night. This can ensure that your body is well-rested and energized when it’s time to start running.
The night before a race, try not to go to bed too early. This could cause you to wake up earlier than you need to, making it harder to fall back asleep.
This is especially important for beginners or those running long-distance races for the first time. If you’ve never run a 5K before, you can’t just sign up for one tomorrow without preparing for it. Your body needs to slowly adapt to this change.
Begin training by running shorter distances and running slower. You can gradually increase your distance and speed once you feel comfortable. You want to pace yourself and not push too hard, or you’ll risk hurting yourself or becoming over exhausted. Neither of these will help you perform your best in the big race!
If you don’t enjoy what you do, you’re not going to put much effort into it. Running is supposed to be a fun activity to help you stay active. While you’re training, make sure to push away all the negative thoughts and focus on how you’re going to perform your best during that race!
If you’re too focused on “winning,” it might cause you to push yourself farther than you’re used to, and you could end up getting injured. Running is supposed to make you feel good and help you challenge yourself. Don’t spoil it with negative thoughts.
Take Rest Days
Put it out of your mind that you need to get in more than one run. You will increase your risk of getting injured if you don’t take time to rest. You might also be too fatigued to perform your best or even finish the race without getting the rest you need. This is no time to constantly push yourself by running long distances every day without a break.
Rest days give your body time to heal so it can get stronger the next day. This is especially important for runners because the activity puts tremendous stress on your joints. If you keep going without a break, your muscles and joints will not have enough time to repair themselves. If you keep pushing tired muscles, they’re more likely to get injured.
Rest days also give your mind a much-needed break. You’re more likely to make mistakes or mess up if you’re both physically and mentally exhausted from training too much.
Areas to Focus on When Stretching
All athletes could benefit from a nice full body stretch, though runners should pay extra attention to certain areas. This is one of those sports that puts a lot of stress on the same body parts, like your back and legs. The muscles in those areas are more likely to tire first and get tight when you neglect to stretch them.
After your run, you’ll want to perform stretches that target the following areas to help keep them healthy and strong:
Most people refer to them as the quads, and this muscle group covers the front and sides of your thighs. They help control deceleration when your leg hits the ground while running and produce 35% of the force that propels your body forward.
If your race involves running up or down hills, it’s especially important to make sure your quads are flexible. Regularly stretching this area can help you improve or maintain range of motion and is especially beneficial to those who sit for long periods.
Your hamstrings stretch from the hip to the knee and make up the back portion of your thigh. They work to extend your hips and flex your knees when you run, and repetitive motion can cause tightness. By stretching your hamstrings, you increase flexibility and improve your hip’s range of motion. You might also notice an improvement in lower back discomfort.
You want to give your calves some love, especially after a run. These muscles are on the back of your lower leg and can become sore from a lack of stretching. Their function is to lift the heels and shift your body weight to the toes. They can also become fatigued much quicker than other muscle groups since they’re smaller than the other main groups.
Having healthy hip flexors is important for runners and nonrunners alike. They’re responsible for maintaining your neighboring muscles’ strength, stability, and mobility. If runners don’t stretch their hip flexors regularly, they can increase their chances of common injuries, like plantar fasciitis or shin splints.
Your hip flexors consist of several muscles, including the psoas and adductors. Strong, flexible hip muscles can also prevent back tightness and help improve your posture.
Did you know that the gluteal muscles play a vital role for runners? This muscle group is on the side of your buttocks and slightly above the hip joint. Stretching and strengthening them can make a big difference to your running performance.
Unfortunately, not many athletes understand the importance of having strong and healthy glutes. It’s their job to hold the pelvis level and steady when you run and are also responsible for hip extension. If you want more power in your stride, you’ll need to focus on the good health of your glutes!
Iliotibial (IT) Band
Your IT band runs on the outside of your thigh. It’s located between the shin and the hip and helps stabilize and move the knee joint. A healthy IT band will prevent aching every time you move your knee.
When runners don’t train or stretch their IT bands properly, it can cause injury to the area. This is known as IT Band Syndrome, and it can cause aches in the knees whenever you run. The best way to prevent this condition is to regularly stretch the area.
Runners should also keep their lower backs in good shape, as tightness in that area can impact performance. Tightness in the lower back is common for those who run because of the repetitive stress and impact. This is especially seen in those who run for long durations, like 5K or 10K marathons.
If you strain your lower back or are experiencing discomfort, taking care of yourself is crucial. Besides taking a break until the symptoms subside, you’ll also need to perform some gentle stretches that target the area.
Things to Do on Race Day
All the training you’ve been doing over the months can go to waste if you don’t take the necessary steps you need on the final days before your race. What you do the night before and the day of can make or break your performance.
If you want to have a good performance, keep these things in mind when you’re training for a race:
- Have a light breakfast
- Don’t try anything new (clothes, shoes, food, etc.)
- Dress light
- Get plenty of sleep the night before
- Warm up with dynamic stretches
- Drink water
Can Practitioner-Assisted Stretching Help You Run Better?
Practitioner-assisted stretching has been beneficial to many pro-athletes. This is because when you allow a trained professional to stretch your body, it can target areas that you can’t get to on your own. It allows you to unlock a greater physical ability so you can have optimal functional flexibility as an athlete.
Let One of Our Professionals Give You a Good Full Body Stretch!
Running a marathon is exciting – and taking care of your body is important. The professionals at Stretch Zone have been helping runners of all skill levels boost their athletic performance so they can perform their best. Practitioner-assisted stretching can be a great way to ease your mind and body while you train for your big race.
If you want to experience the incredible benefits of this service, visit a Stretch Zone near you and schedule a 30-minute session. You’ll quickly see the difference it can have in your running performance. Get started today!