Many of us were taught the basics of stretching as kids in gym class: You reach and hold a position to warm up and loosen muscles. Since then, there’s been quite a bit of research done on the effectiveness of stretching and how to best treat your body before and after physical activity. Many experts now recommend a combination of dynamic stretching and static stretching. In this article, we look at:
- Dynamic stretching vs. static stretching: When and why you should use dynamic stretching and static stretching as part of your training.
- Stretches for running: Recommendations of specific dynamic and static stretches for runners.
Dynamic Stretching vs. Static Stretching
Dynamic stretching is active stretching (sometimes called functional stretching) that mimics the movements of running to increase your heart rate, raise your body temperature and warm up muscles and tendons in preparation for your run. You’re always in motion while doing a dynamic stretching routine.
Static stretching, on the other hand, is the reach-and-hold style of stretching that’s familiar to most of us. With static stretching, you typically hold a position for 30–60 seconds to lengthen and relax muscles. It’s an effective way of increasing flexibility, improving range of motion and bringing relief to sore, cramped muscles.
When to Stretch
Do dynamic stretching before running: REI Outdoor School instructor Julia Zuniga recommends doing dynamic stretching to ready your muscles for running. Set aside five to 10 minutes before your run to do a dynamic stretching routine.
Save static stretching for after: Julia recommends saving static stretching, such as a sustained hamstring or calf stretch, for after exercise. Doing a routine of static stretches after running can help increase flexibility and bring relief to tight muscles.
Dynamic Stretches for Running
Here are five dynamic stretches that will rouse your running muscles:
1. High Knees (glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings)
Jog in place while lifting your knees up to the level of your waist for about 30 seconds to one minute.
2. Butt Kicks (quads, hip flexors, hamstrings)
3. Skipping (calves, glutes, shoulders)
This is the same kind of skipping you did as a kid, but with a bit more power to propel your body up and forward. Swing your arms as you skip to warm up your shoulders. Pick a point about 15 yards away and skip down and back.
4. Leg Swings (glutes, calves, lower back, hamstrings)
5. Arm Circles (shoulders)
Static Stretches for Running
While performing static stretches, move slowly and smoothly and remember to breathe. Don’t bounce, as that can overstretch a muscle and cause injury. It’s OK to feel a deep stretch with some tension, but do not push so far that you feel pain.