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Best Stretching Tips for Runners

Best Stretching Tips for Runners

There are several questions and concerns among runners when it comes to stretching. Some people stretch before running simply because that’s what they’re used to doing before any type of workout. Others never stretch at all and insist that it doesn’t hinder their performance. Some runners swear that stretching after a run is the most beneficial for them. But what does the research say?

According to most health and fitness experts, stretching before and after a run can help you improve flexibility, prevent injury, and boost your performance. The trick is completing the right types of stretches at the ideal times during your workout routine. 

Static vs. Dynamic Stretching

Generally speaking, there are two main types of stretches: static and dynamic. Static stretches are the kinds of stretches you do while standing still, such as touching your toes, doing a standing lunge, or holding a simple yoga pose. Static stretches can improve flexibility, but they’re most effective if completed once your muscles are warmed up after a workout. Doing static stretches before a workout can cause you to pull a muscle or injure yourself since your muscles are still “cold.”

Dynamic stretches, on the other hand, are perfect for pre-workout warmups. These stretches, such as walking lunges and side stretches, allow you to slowly warm up your muscles through gentle movements. Dynamic stretching has been proven to help runners avoid injuries during their routines, and it can often have positive effects on a runner’s overall flexibility. Athletic performance coach, Hannah Schultz, recommends just 8 to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching prior to a workout to reap these benefits. 

Pre-Workout Stretches

The most important thing to remember when it comes to stretching is that you should never feel pain or discomfort during a stretch. Pushing yourself too hard or rushing through the stretches won’t do you any favors, and you may risk hurting yourself before your run. Take your time, and don’t force yourself to stretch past the point of moderate resistance.

Some people prefer to complete their dynamic stretches after a brief warm-up jog, whereas others like to do these stretches in place of their typical warm-up routine. You may have to experiment a bit to see what works best for you. In any case, these dynamic, pre-workout stretches are a few good options to try before your next run: 

  • Walking lunges.
  • Calf raises.
  • Side stretches.
  • Hip circles.
  • Standing quad stretches.

Post-Run Stretches

After a hard run, your muscles may feel sore, tight, or tired. Instead of packing up and heading back home, take a few minutes to take advantage of your loosened muscles to do some easy static stretches. These poses specifically target muscles that can affect a runner’s performance, and they can ease muscle tension or discomfort: 

  • Calf stretch (using an exercise step or stairs).
  • Low lunge.
  • Butterfly stretch.
  • Hamstring stretch.

Stretch Yourself Further

If you want to see more examples of static or dynamic stretches, check out these videos for step-by-step tutorials and stretching routines:

Hydration Hacks for Runners

It doesn’t take long for new runners to find out that guzzling water right before a run makes for a rather uncomfortable workout. Side cramps and the feeling of water sloshing around in their stomachs are two common reasons why runners may also refuse to drink water during a long run—even to the point of dehydration.

However, it can be tricky to find the right balance of water intake for runners at all levels. It may take some trial and error before you discover a system that works best for your needs and running habits. That being said, there are a few basic hydration tips that any individual could benefit from. According to experts, these are some of the best strategies for avoiding dehydration and overhydration to help you perform at your best:

Focus On Everyday Water Intake

Sports nutritionist Monique Ryan, author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, reports that nearly 50% of regular exercisers begin their workouts in the early stages of dehydration. “Your priority should be staying on top of daily hydration," Ryan recommends. “If you hydrate properly, you won't need to worry as much about becoming dehydrated during a typical moderate run." This means that you need to be drinking adequate amounts of water everyday; not just days you work out. The old guideline of “8 glasses of water per day” is a good rule of thumb.

Take a “Sweat Test”

If you want to ensure you’re taking in enough water during a long run, USAT Level I Triathlon coach Chrissy Carroll, R.D. says that you can simply weigh yourself before and after a workout. “If you've only lost 1-2% of your body weight, you’re in the hydration sweet spot,” Carroll says. “If you've lost more than 2-3% of your body weight, try hydrating a little more during your long runs.” A good standard practice is to drink 0.4 to 0.8 liters of water in the first hour of a run. This equates to a few sips of water every 15-20 minutes. 

Carry Water—Or Get Creative With Your Route

REI Outdoor School Instructors Julia Zuniga and Cory Rand are all too familiar with common concerns and complaints when it comes to staying hydrated. They both recommend that runners should wear a waist belt or hydration vest during strenuous workouts, and that people should set a timer to go off every 20 minutes so they remember to drink. 

However, they also acknowledge that carrying water can weigh people down when they’re trying to improve their speed. Their solution? “Plan a route that will take you by a water fountain where you can drink or refill a bottle,” Zuniga and Rand respond. They also suggest that you can use your car as an “aid station” by planning your run in loops around the vehicle. You can stop at your car to drink water, grab a quick snack, or whatever else you need to keep going.

Race Day Tips

Proper sleep, nutrition, and training are all important points of focus leading up to a race. You might have a specific meal plan or stretch regimen you follow on a daily basis to ensure you’ll deliver an optimal performance the day of the event. But in many cases, a structured training plan needs to be altered for race morning—or even race week. Follow these simple tips to feel as prepared as you can be by the time you approach the starting line.

 

Don’t be scared to warm up

So many runners—especially new runners—are worried that pre-race warmups will tire them out before the gun even goes off. The truth is that getting your heart rate up—even to the point of a light sweat—and making sure your joints are nice and loose will result in a better quality run. Don’t skimp on this part—do yourself a favor by prepping your muscles and going for an easy jog. And trust me, you won’t wear yourself out. If nothing else, you’ll have adrenaline on your side.

 

Don’t wait until race day to hydrate

It’s unrealistic--and unwise--to strictly apply every piece of advice for every race distance. For example, preparation and strategy for a marathon differs greatly from a 5K. However, as a general rule, it’s important to be well hydrated by the time you wake up on race day morning, which means it’s important to pay close attention to your water intake the week leading up to the race. If you try to guzzle a bunch of water that morning, you’ll run the risk of having to stop to use the bathroom or, at the very least, feel uncomfortable with too much liquid in your stomach. I personally take only a sip or two to wet my lips before any race and refrain from actually drinking water until afterwards. This no-water method might not work for you, so listen to your body, but do try to be hydrated prior to race day.

 

Hydrate smart

Whether you’re a runner or not, proper nutrition is important for making us feel our very best physically and mentally. A lot of runners are diligent about eating a balanced diet from a variety of food groups to make sure they have all of the necessary nutrients and fuel to perform their best. Fiber is an important component to any healthy diet, but when it comes to race day and the few days leading up to it, it could be beneficial to wean off your fiber intake. Fiber adds bulk to your stool and allows things to move quickly and efficiently. This isn’t necessarily a good thing when you’re going for a PR. Not to mention, fiber absorbs water, which can make you feel weighed down or even bloated. One method to avoid that would be to start decreasing your fiber intake the week of the race, and then on race morning, have something simple, light, and low fiber, such as toast and an egg. 

 

Make stretching secondary

Stretching is important in just about every sport. It’s beneficial to have loose, limber muscles in order to prevent injury. The type of stretching you do and the timing of your stretch session are key factors to consider, however, especially on race day. Your first priority shouldn’t be stretching—it should be your warmup. Getting your body and muscles warm through a jog and other light aerobic movements is crucial for a successful run. When you do begin to stretch, it should be dynamic—not static stretching. Static refers to holding particular positions in place, such as a maintained toe-touch hamstring stretch. Dynamic stretches, on the other hand, involve continued motion, such as high knee runs and leg swings. Static stretching is intended to increase range of motion over time, but if done with no warmup and cool muscles, it could do more harm than good and cause injury. Static stretching should be reserved for after the race.

 

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