A well-balanced training plan has different workouts focused on speed, strength and endurance—stretching is your behind-the-scenes tool to making sure you run faster, stronger and farther. But there is a right way and a wrong way to limber up. And if you’re still using an old-school, touch-your-toes stretching regimen to keep soreness at bay, it’s time to get up to speed.
Back in the day, coaches commonly recommended that runners loosen up before work-outs with static stretches like forward folds and side bends. A bulk of recent research, however, suggests that this sort of stretching can actually impair performance.
The new rules dictate that the best way for athletes to get bendy is to use a foam roller for some light massage. Perform dynamic stretching as a warm-up—and to save the static stretching for after.
Because all of this stretching stuff can be confusing, we’ve created an easy routine you can use every day to reward those tired gams. Follow this plan and your legs will totally return the favor the next time you step out the door.
Sore Versus Injured
Stretching is meant to prevent injury and decrease soreness, but it’s important to know the difference! If a pain nags for more than three days, it may be more serious than tired muscles. Put the stretching and running on hold and consult your doctor. Staying limber is a preventive measure, but not a perfect one—if an injury creeps in, don’t ignore it!
Before Your Warm-Up: Foam Roll
Foam rolling is an effective form of self-massage that can be performed anytime. But when you roll pre-workout, it can increase blood flow and decrease muscle density. Before you run out the door, spend five to 10 minutes on the quads, hamstrings, glutes, inner thighs, calves, IT band and back.
Trigger Point rolled out (lolz!) the GRID X ($50, tptherapy.com) earlier this year. It’s the brand’s firmest foam roller yet, and it definitely does the dirty work. Make it fun and see which of your run buds can roll out both legs without cringing!
(a) Lie on your stomach and place the foam roller under the top of your thigh.
(b) Slowly roll from the top of your hip down to the top of your knee. Be mindful of any pressure points that need addressing. (Hold the foam roller on any hot spots for up to 10 seconds.) Continue rolling all areas of the quad for up to 60 seconds. Move on to other key muscle groups.
Warm-Up: Modified Walking Lunge
Dynamic exercises warm your muscles and improve range of motion, so you’ll feel more relaxed and powerful before the main event. Perform these stretches before putting the pedal to the metal during your workout.
Modified Walking Lunge
(a) Step forward and (b) lower into a lunge position until you feel a stretch in your back leg.
(c) Place your hands on your front ankle and straighten your legs to make an A-frame. You should feel a stretch in the front hamstring.
(d) Return to a lunge position and (e) lower your back knee to the ground.
(f) Place your hands on your front thigh and slowly move the front knee over your shoe as you feel a deep stretch in the back thigh. That’s one rep. Complete four reps total on each side.
Warm Up: Knee Pull
Pull one knee up to the chest level (or as high as comfortable) with both hands. Hold for a count of five. Release knee and lower leg to the floor. That’s one rep. Complete five reps on each side.
After Workout: Hip Bridge
After Workout: Gentle Static Stretching
Post-workout stretching should be gentle, not forced, so your tired legs can properly recover. Rejuvenate the body and mind through slow static stretches that will leave you relaxed and ready to do it all over again tomorrow.
Hip Bridge Stretch
(a) Lie on your back with bent knees and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
(b) As you flatten your back to the floor, contract your abs and slowly lift your hips up until you feel a stretch in the hip flexors, groin and lower abdominals. Hold for up to 10 seconds and then lower. Repeat up to five times.
After Workout: Hamstring Stretch w/Rope
(a) Lying flat on the floor with bent knees, place a rope around the bottom of one foot (a long-sleeved shirt works too).
(b) Keeping both hips on the ground (do not tilt), slowly straighten your leg until you feel a stretch in your hamstring. For a deeper stretch, point your toe toward your head. Hold for up to 30 seconds and then lower your leg to the ground. Repeat three times total and then switch to the other side.