Running for beginners part 5 - the warm up and stretching for runners
Improving your running performance through stretching
Here's our guide to warming up, cooling down and stretching correctly to optimise your running improvement. We'll also provide you with information on the best stretches for runners.
Warming-up, cooling-down and stretching
Warming up is essential for preparing your body for a run. A study at Manhattan College in New York found that just five minutes of warming up enabled runners to exercise for longer than those who headed straight into a workout without properly preparing. Start with some mobilisations of the major joints (the shoulders, hips, knees and spine), then walk briskly for a few minutes. Start to run slowly, gradually increasing your speed as your body adjusts.
Cooling-down at the end of a run gives your body’s systems a chance to get back to normal. Instead of stopping suddenly, gradually slow down, take your run down to a walk and then stretch the muscles you’ve used.
Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat, remembering to stretch both sides where necessary (instructions are only given for one side). Remember not to bounce on a muscle but ease into the stretch. If you’re short of time, repeat only those stretches in which the joint or muscle feels particularly tight.
Stretches for runners:
Kneel on the floor with your heels under your bottom, tops of the feet on the floor and your hands gently supporting you at each side. Lift your right knee up, pressing the front of the right ankle and shin towards the floor.
Stretching lower calf
Stand on a low step or curb with your right heel hanging off the edge of the support. Bend at the knees and hips and, keeping most of your weight on the left leg, gently press the right heel down, simultaneously pulling the toes up.
Stretching upper calf
Standing in front of a wall or bar, take a lunge forward with the left leg, keeping the right leg straight, with the heel on the floor. Feet should both be pointing directly forward. Use the wall for support and keep your pelvis in line with your back (i.e. your rear end shouldn’t be sticking out!).
Stand in front of a support between knee and hip height. Extend one leg and place it on the support, with the foot relaxed. You should be at a distance that allows your supporting leg to be perpendicular to the floor. Now hinge forward from the hips, keeping the pelvis level and the knee of the extended leg straight. Feel the stretch along the back of the lifted thigh.
Stretching hip flexors
Stand in front of a chair or bench and place the right foot on it, behind you. Now bend the left knee and keeping the right hip behind the midline of the body and your back straight, gently press the right thigh down until you feel a stretch along the front of the hip and thigh.
Stand tall with feet parallel and then lift your right heel, taking your right hand behind you to grab the foot. Bring the pelvis in to a neutral position and gently press the foot into your hand, keeping knees close together. It doesn’t matter if your stretching thigh is in front of the supporting one (this indicates tightness), as long as you feel a stretch.
Lie on your back and bring the right knee close into your chest, hands wrapped around the shin, the knee fully bent. Hold the position, release and then bring the knee towards the left shoulder, and hold again.
Stretching lower back
Kneel on the floor, lower your torso down on to your thighs and take your arms out in front of you. Imagine drawing the tailbone close to the floor and feel the spine flex right through the lower and middle back.
Find out more by reading the dos and don't of stretching.