Whether you’re training for a marathon or taking a few quick laps around the block, a stretch routine should be part of your training schedule. Pre-run dynamic stretches lubricate your joints so you can log your miles pain-free, and doing another set after you cross the finish line will kickstart your recovery routine and help you avoid delayed-onset muscle soreness. But while stretching the right way can help you make the most out of your run or walk, overstretching will have the opposite effect. That’s why physical therapist Corinne Croce, PT, co-founder of New York City’s Bodyevolved, has one golden rule for limbering up post-run: Do. No. Overdo. It.
“Any stretch that forces or pushes you to extreme ranges [of motion] is the worst stretch for a runner,” says Croce. “We put ourselves at risk for straining joints and muscle tissues when we force our bodies into a stretch we don’t have the capacity for.” Overstretching can result in an injury to your muscle or joint. For example, if you have poor hip mobility and attempt to contort your body into pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana in Sanskrit), you risk placing undue stress on your hips and knees.
You can make every stretch work for you rather than the other way around by modifying the position to meet you where your body is today (not yesterday, not tomorrow). “Think about modifying with props, like blocks, to decrease your range of motion,” says Croce, adding that “modifying” doesn’t mean that you’ll be missing out on the benefits of any given stretch. It means you’ll be accessing the benefits of that stretch safely.”You’ will get way more out of bodywork when you meet your body where it is, instead of forcing it beyond its current limits,” adds Croce. You’re a person, not a rubber band, after all.
To get the most out of your pre- and post-run routines, Croce suggests taking your muscles through the three-pronged process of mobilizing, stretching, and activating them. Start by doing some tissue work with either a foam roller or vibration tool, then move through some gentle stretches, holding each one for two minutes or as long as your body tells you to. To finish things off, do a few dynamic movements like lateral lunges or gate openers that will help activate the muscles you rely on for running (also, be sure to give your glutes a little extra love since they take a lot of heat when you’re pounding the pavement).
Remember: You don’t have to go all out for your running stretches to be effective. “The best way to improve flexibility and mobility is with consistent work,” says Croce. “Lighter work you do regularly will show great changes in the health of your joints and muscle tissues.” It sounds cliché, but when it comes to stretching, slow and steady wins the race.
Need some stretch-spiration? Follow along with the video below for our favorite pre-run stretches.
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