When do I stretch? Is stretching bad to do before I run? These are a couple questions I get a lot and they are great questions! There’s a lot to the whole stretching debate, so let’s just break it down to when we should do what.
There is something called functional flexibility, which simply means, “are you flexible enough to complete the task?” When we run, we need to be flexible enough to have efficient movements of the legs, in particular. Do we need to be able to touch our toes to run well? No, probably not. So, before we are running we don’t need to worry about increasing our flexibility, which is done by static stretching held for long periods of time. We need to be ready to run and our muscles, tendon, and bone need to be ready for what you are about to do to them! That brings us to dynamic stretching, or a dynamic warm up.
The dynamic warm up is great because it is preparing your muscles to get ready. It primes your neuromuscular system to be ready. Static stretching is simply trying to lengthen those muscles. Now, many of you have heard us say (me included) that static stretching will cause a loss in force production before running, but we know that you have to hold these stretches for several minutes apiece (more than 10 minutes/stretch!) So, I still really like doing a dynamic warm up prior to running because it’s quick, easy, and better prepares us to get moving. With that said, here is a super simple 10 exercise dynamic warm up that anyone can do and will help you become a better runner:
Standing tall with feet shoulder- width apart, swing your arms in a circular, clockwise motion, mimicking propeller blades on each side of your body. Avoid crossing your arms over your chest. Keep your back straight and knees slightly bent. After 6–10 repetitions, swing the arms from the sides across your chest in a back-and-forth motion for another 6–10 repetitions. These exercises help relax the major upper-body muscles, making your upper body more efficient during running. This is particularly advantageous because runners tend to carry tension in their arms and shoulders, which affects the rest of the stride.
Standing tall with feet shoulder-width apart and hands on the hips, begin by making circles with your hips, leaning as far forward and backward as comfortably possible. Perform 10–12 rotations in a counterclockwise motion and then reverse direction for another 10–12 rotations. By opening up the hips, this exercise allows for a better range of motion in your stride.
Front Leg Swings:
Stand with your left side next to a wall, placing your weight on your right leg (outside leg) and left hand on the wall. Swing your left leg forward and back- ward in a pendulum motion for a total of 10–12 repetitions. Reverse position and do the same with the right leg.
Side Leg Swings:
Stand facing a wall with both hands on the wall. Swing your right leg across the front of your body. Swing it as far to the left as you can move comfort- ably and then back to the right as far as you can move comfortably. Do 10–12 times and then switch legs.
Stand tall with good posture, with arms at your sides, relaxed. Take an exaggerated step forward with one leg so that the your back heel is off the ground. With back straight and chest up, dip your body straight down towards ground. Back knee should not touch ground. Press up with front leg while back leg swings forward. Return to starting position and repeat with opposite leg forward.
Skip slowly for 30–50 meters, or 10–15 seconds. Turn around and skip back to your starting position.
Following a straight line, jog slowly and focus on lifting your knees toward your chest in a marching fashion. Pay attention to driving the knee toward the chest and also consider proper arm carriage and pumping rhythmically with the opposite knee. Proper arm carriage would be arms bent at 90 degrees and moving back and forth as if on a pendulum at the shoulder. The up- and-down actions should be quick, but your movement forward should be steady and controlled. Travel down and back, 30-50 meters each way.
In this reverse motion of high knees, pull your heels back rapidly toward your buttocks. Again, the motions should be quick, but your linear movement steady. Travel 30–50 meters, turn, and continue back direction.to your starting position.
These are a similar motion to the high knees, except instead of driving the knees high into the chest, the focus shifts to pushing off with the trailing leg and driving forward. It is a cross between a skip and high knees. Travel 30–50 meters, turn, and continue these steps back to your starting position.
At the end of your exercise routine, do 4–6 repetitions of a 75- to 100-meter sprint at near-maximal effort. Always do your fast running with the wind, so jog back against the wind to start a new sprint. The sprints shouldn’t be more than 15 seconds, so slower runners should begin with 75- meter sprints.