Posted by: thehungryrunner | August 30, 2010

Helpful post-run stretch strategy: Immediate stretch before shower, another stretch after shower

As many of you know, this Hungry Runner earns her New Balance 769’s and kitchen-sink smoothies by running a business called The Flexibility Coach.  And one of the reasons I love my job so much is because….I’m my own customer!  I need to track down and effectively apply good quality stretches just like every other runner.  So I can honestly say, I use my own product — my stretch and yoga workouts — on a regular basis!  (Though admittedly I usually just refer to my stretching book; I don’t often need to pull up the audio recordings — I have that voice in my head already, as it turns out. :))

With that in mind, it shouldn’t be suprising to know that many of the stretches and suggestions I’ve devised over the years are ones that initially came about in my own personal experimentations.  I’m forever looking for ways to keep my body supple in spite of the pounding I give it, and to keep my athletic goals moving forward in the least extra time investment possible.

So here’s my latest discovery:  I put myself through not one but TWO short stretch routines after a run.  The first one occurs immediately upon finishing the run, and typically lasts 5-7 minutes.  I then take my shower (almost always warm or hot, no matter how hot the weather), and follow my shower immediately with another round of stretches, when my muscles are somewhat calmed down but still feeling a bit of a buzz.  This one lasts about 7-10 minutes if I’m pressed for time, longer when I have more time or if the run was particularly intense.

The strategy is proving extremely helpful especially in releasing my calf muscles and hamstrings — my primary “problem child” muscles during running season — and also stretching my glutes more deeply, and this makes sense to me.  The way I see it, that initial stretch session takes the worst of the tightness down a notch, and starts to enable my nerves to release their grip on stimulating my leg muscles so that the muscles can relax and lengthen again.  I can tell those initial stretches have done their trick when I’m back to walking comfortably, without any hint of “Frankenstein” as I make my way to the shower.  But the stretching after my shower, no doubt partly primed by the previous stretch session, is when the real stretching can take place — meaning, I can get into deeper stretches, hold them safely for longer periods to promote better muscle recovery, and be more thorough in the variety of stretches I choose.  Also, by then, I myself am more calm; when I first get back from a run, I still have leftover momentum, both physically and mentally.  But after stopping to perform that initial stretch, then unwinding further with the shower, my body and mind have slowed down, which will make any stretching more likely to be  effective, since slow and methodical is the name of the game with successful stretching.

Oh sure, you’re thinking, maybe you’re able to stretch “more” in that second round, but is it translating to anything meaningful in terms of the bigger picture?  It seems to be.  What I’m noticing is less stiffness upon awakening in the morning (sad but true, The Flexibility Coach’s own calf muscles don’t appear to have read the memo that they’re not supposed to be tight!), and I’ve been able to sustain a more frequent run schedule the summer, without (knock on wood) any sign of injury.  I’m sure there are a number of factors contributing, but I know how much better I feel for the rest of the day just by this one measure alone.

So, I’m putting the official “thumbs up” stamp on this one.  Fellow runners, give this stretch pattern a try and see if it doesn’t seem to help you as well!

One caveat:  (Besides checking with your doctor before stretching and all of that)  Make sure you ease into that second routine of stretches carefully.  Although the idea is that there won’t have been enough time passage before and after a shower for your muscles to cool off significantly, there will be some cooling.  Start out with a couple of surefire, easy stretches for yourself, and build from there.

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