You pound the pavement and put in the hours to get into top running shape. Runners have their superstitious socks, singlets and pre-race breakfasts, but many miss an important step: stretching. Here are a few post-run stretches to get you started, and keep you healthy.
Stretch Your Quads
The quadriceps is the muscle running along the front of the thigh. Runners may feel exhaustion and soreness in the quadriceps after a long or challenging run, as it is engaged heavily during running. Be sure to stretch your quads after each run to ensure that soreness does not turn into an injury.
To stretch your quads, find a wall to stabilize yourself. Reach back and grab your right ankle and pull up and back until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Be sure not to lean forward by keeping your core engaged and your hips in line with each other. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and switch legs.
Don't Ignore the Smaller Muscles
The calf can often get neglected because it's a smaller muscle. But tight calves can throw off your entire stride and cause other injuries, according to physical therapist Matthew Audia. So don't forget to stretch these muscles.
One way to stretch your calf is to place your hands against a wall. Lift your toes up so they are touching the wall with your heels still on the ground, leg straight or with a slight bend in the knee. Lean forward into the wall—you should feel this stretch in your calf. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat on the opposite side.
IT Band Stretch to Avoid a Common Running Injury
IT band syndrome is a common injury that affects athletes. According to a study by Razib Khaund and Sharon Flynn of the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP), this injury is often the result of overuse stemming from running or cycling; it surfaces in the form of knee pain of varying degrees. The IT band acts as a stabilizer while running, and can become inflamed with overuse. When it is inflamed, the band stops gliding smoothly, causing pain. The AAFP study states that stretching can help lessen your chances of this syndrome, and can also be a part of treatment.
There are two great ways to stretch your IT band. While standing straight, cross one leg over the other and hinge down at the waist until you feel a stretch in your back leg on the outside of your thigh. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and switch sides. For the sitting variation, cross you right leg over your left, bringing your knee up to your chest. Use your left elbow to push onto your knee and get deeper into the stretch as you twist to the right. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds then switch sides.