Posted by: thehungryrunner | February 15, 2011

Five Essential Post-Run Exercises and Stretches

As much as I’m looking forward to the weather — and road conditions — improving enough to allow me to break free of the treadmill (if ever there was a task that feels very “Groundhog Day” to it…), I must admit an appreciationg for one advantage of my indoor runs:  the ability to easily sprawl out and perform those post-run stretches and exercises that round out my workout.  By migrating seamlessly to the mat and tacking on just 10 minutes at the end of my run, I get the instant — and long-lasting — gratification of releasing those muscles that were used repeatedly, strengthening others that weren’t addressed in the run, and fully soaking in and enjoying the endorphins swirling inside my body.  If the moods of my day read like an EKG, for sure the apex of that graph would occur during that blissful post-run “decompression”!

But given that flexibility and fitness isn’t just a personal pursuit but also my profession, I’m often asked what constitutes a comprehensive post-run stretch and strengthening routine.  Truth be told, I often take more than the 10 minutes to cycle through an even larger variety of muscles and movements, but I were to boil it down to the bare essentials, these are the top five “ingredients” worthy of your attention:

  1. Calf Stretches:  These are a must, because each and every one of us are using our calves big-time when we run (or even walk).  By the end of a run, the cumulative effect of contracting the calves means they are now extremely tight and immobile.  You want to make sure you perform stretches that hit both the larger calf muscle (the one we all think of when we think calf muscle), and ESPECIALLY the deeper, smaller calf muscle located closer to the Achilles tendon, known as the soleus.  The soleus is heavily used when running and is often a major factor in ankle and foot problems.  Injury prevention definitely starts in keeping this muscle supple.
  2. Hamstring Stretches:  Duh.  But here’s the key:  Make sure you’re truly stretching your HAMSTRINGS — folks, that means a fully stretched knee and a neutral spine — and NOT your low back or gluteal muscles.  How do you know if you’re doing the latter instead of the former?  If your back is rounded, and/or your tailbone is tucked under, or your shoulders are hunched forward, or your knee (of the leg that you’re trying to stretch) is bent….chances are good you’re not addressing your hamstrings very effectively, if at all.  Stay within your comfort zone, but concentrate on elongating the back of the leg without contorting your back and shoulders in order to ensure a “clean” hamstring stretch.
  3. Core Strengtheners:  In this instance, I’m referring to exercises that specifically address the abdominal muscles.  But…
  4. Light (but deliberate) Low Back Exercises:  To continue from Item 3, you also want to include some movements that will stretch and activate your low back, such as a Prone Opposite Arm/Leg Reach and the Elbow Cobra stretch in yoga.
  5. Side Stretch and a Twist:  OK, so I’m technically citing two stretches instead of one.  But the reason is because these two categories of stretch represent the other two planes of movement.  When we run, we’re moving predominantly in the “sagittal” plane, meaning forward/backward motions.  But we have two other planes of movement, the “frontal” plane (side to side movements) and the “transverse” plane (twists).  By ending a workout — any workout, running or otherwise — on a note that focuses on complimenting the primary plane of movement with the other planes of movement, we’re promoting a more three-dimensional flexibility and mobility to our whole body.  This in turn paves the way for a more comfortable day and builds a foundation that will allow us to keep on expanding our fitness, safely and effectively.

So keep this in mind the next time you’ve finished your cool-down.  A few additional minutes of your time can make all the difference in achieving your goals and keeping your progress moving forward!

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