Posted on: July 22, 2015
Ready to Run: Simple Stretches to Stave Off Injury
By Dennis McGovern
Each year, more and more people are inspired to start their own running program. Running provides both physical and mental benefits, the only equipment required is a pair of running shoes and you can do it anywhere. I’m a big fan of setting fitness goals, and recommend taking a few precautions to help avoid injury.
A thorough warm up before running is a must. When you do any type of vigorous exercise, you get microtears in your muscles. That’s natural—when your body repairs your muscles, they become stronger. But if you aren’t properly warmed up, you’ll experience many more of these tears and you’ll be much sorer afterward.
While most people think the proper warm up begins with stretching, few know that you need an active warm up to loosen your muscles and get blood flowing before you stretch. Otherwise you won’t get the full benefit of stretching. Try jogging-in-place, jumping jacks, and high-knee stepping for five to 10 minutes. Since running involves your full body, do some arm circles as well: Hold your arms out to your sides and start with small rotations forward and then backward; make progressively larger circles.
Once your muscles are sufficiently warm, the following leg stretches will complete your pre-run regimen and you’ll be ready to go. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds, and repeat it two to three times. Despite what you may have heard, stretching should not be painful. You want to feel the stretch but it should be tolerable.
“Exercise doesn’t take as much effort when your
muscles are loose and ready for action.”
Hamstring stretch: Stand facing stairs and place the heel of your right leg on a step in front of you. Keeping your right knee straight, lean forward and reach toward your toe. Switch legs and repeat.
Quad stretch: Facing a wall, place your left hand on the wall for balance and then lift your right heel up behind you, bending your leg at the knee. Grasp your right ankle with your right hand and pull your heel toward your rear. You should feel a mild stretch in the front of your leg. Be sure not to lock the knee in the leg you are standing on. Switch legs and repeat.
Calf stretch: Stand about arm’s length from a wall, place your hands against the wall and step forward with your left foot. Now lean toward the wall keeping your body straight and your right heel on the ground. Push back through your right heel as you feel the stretch. Switch legs and repeat.
Forward lunge: Keeping your head up and trunk straight, step forward with your right leg into a lunge position. Sink your hips toward the ground. Lower your hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Make sure your front knee is directly above your ankle. Your other knee should not touch the floor. Then return to the starting position. (You may want to hold onto a chair or wall for balance.) Switch legs and repeat.
Piriformis stretch: This is especially important for women whose wider hips increase the angle to their knees and leave them susceptible to pain and tightness in this small muscle deep in the buttocks. Sitting in a chair, place your right ankle over your left knee and push down on your right knee while leaning forward. Switch legs and repeat.
IT Band stretch: This is the long flat ligament that runs along the outside of your thigh from your hip to the knee, and it can become very tight in runners. Stand in front of a wall and place your right foot behind and to the left of your left foot. Bend your upper body to the left, pushing your hips gently to the right until you feel the stretch in your right hip and outside of your thigh. Switch legs and repeat.
Exercise doesn’t take as much effort when your muscles are loose and ready for action, and by taking the time for a proper warm up, you’ll not only lessen your chances of injury, you’ll improve your running times.
Editor’s Note: Dennis McGovern, DPT, is a physical therapist at Northern Westchester Hospital’s Ambulatory Care Center at Chappaqua Crossing. Visit www.nwhrehab.org to learn more about Northern Westchester Hospital’s rehabilitation services.