Q&A: Stretching post-run? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
This is part of a series of posts I’m doing this spring focused on marathon training. To get these “Marathon Monday” posts in your inbox, sign-up here!
Welcome to another edition of Coach Carl Q&A (submit your questions here). This time I’m covering if you need to stretch post-run, why or why not, and how best to structure your post-run stretching routine.
“What simple stretching routine should I be doing after every run? I always feel like I’m missing something (especially my hips, given how they felt after I did yoga last Friday for the first time in a year).”
— Kelsey A.
This is a great question to talk about for two reasons:
1) Stretching is a super confusing topic for runners
2) I don’t think people pay enough attention to what they do after they run
DO YOU NEED TO STRETCH?
So let’s start with stretching — you can find articles and research and opinions to back up pretty much whatever you already think about stretching. If you have a routine (even if your routine is to never stretch) and it works for you — vaya con dios.
Here is my general opinion on stretching for runners (and please note that I am not a medical professional and I am happy to defer to your doctor, physical therapist, chiropractor, etc. on this matter — especially if you are dealing with any injuries):
Marathon runners need to consider range of motion
• Good range of motion is important for running efficiently and reducing injury risk — especially as the stress you’re subjecting your body to increases. By that I mean, when you’re running longer and harder (so, you know, marathon training).
• At its core, stretching is designed to lengthen the muscles. For some people who need to increase their range of motion, that may be helpful. For others, you may be able to increase your range of motion with dynamic exercises or by using the foam roller.
Do you really need to lengthen the rope, or do you just need to untie the knots?
• The foam roller helps to break up adhesions in the muscle that may be artificially limiting the range of motion that you have. Think of the muscle like a rope with a bunch of knots tied into it. Do you really need to lengthen the rope (stretching), or do you just need to untie the knots (foam roller) so that you can use the full length of the rope?
• If you have a sufficient range of motion, and you don’t like stretching, I don’t think you need to force yourself to. But I do think that all runners can benefit from some range of motion exercises and ample use of the foam roller.
With all that being said …
YOU SHOULD WORK ON RANGE OF MOTION POST-RUN
During your run, your muscles will tighten and shorten, so you need to do something after your run to help lengthen them back out. I prefer dynamic exercises, and this is a short, simple routine that I would recommend:
• Backward running: 2×20-30m
Make sure to bring your heel up to your butt and really reach back as you do this exercise to help lengthen the hip flexors
• Butt kicks: 2×20-30m
Usually I don’t recommend the “traditional” butt kicks where your thigh is perpendicular to the ground (discussion for another time), but in this case I like that motion because it helps lengthen out the quads
• Leg swings (both forward-and-back and side-to-side): x8-10 on each leg
Use a wall or fence for balance, stand on one leg and swing the other in front and behind you with full range of motion 8-10 times. Repeat on the other leg. Then turn and face the wall or fence and repeat, swinging your leg across your body. These help lengthen the hamstrings and external rotators.
Then you can add any traditional post-run stretching after these exercises, followed by 5-10 minutes of foam roller work focusing on the calves, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors. You can get some more details on proper foam rolling in this column I wrote for Running Times.
Using this routine may not help you in yoga class, but it will certainly help you feel better after your run and the next day.
About Coach Carl
Coach Carl is a USA Track & Field Level 2 endurance coach who works with runners of all ability levels to reach their goals. He has been featured in Runner’s World, Women’s Health, and Competitor and is a regular contributor to Running Times.