But now, with my minimal time to get anything done, flexibility
often always takes a back seat to running and strength training. Recently my runs have been so difficult, partly because my training has been inconsistent, but in addition to struggling through every run, my body just feels off. When my body feels off, I know I need to reground myself by taking a step back and getting in tune with what’s going on–for me this means yoga or at least some kind of meditative stretching. I am able to identify tweaks, weaknesses, and just generally ‘center’ my mind and body in preparation for more high intensity exercise, like running.
Before beginning a flexibility session, it is critical to warm up the muscle groups to be stretched. Warming up increases circulation and loosens the muscles and joints. An effective warm up allows you to begin your stretching at an already increased range of motion, thus allowing you to get more out of your session. Reliable warm ups include walking or jogging, jumping jacks, high knees, kick butts, arm circles, etc.
How far should I stretch?
Effective stretching takes careful work. There is a fine line between feeling a good muscle stretch and feeling pain. Holding a stretch just below that line is the key to being able to improve your flexibility. The next time you stretch, that line will be further. As you come to the peak of your stretch, you will feel a slight burn. This is where to hold the stretch. Do not bounce or make any sudden movements.
How long do I hold the stretch for?
The most common mistake people make when stretching is to not hold the stretch long enough. To effectively improve flexibility, a stretch needs to be held for about 60 seconds. During this time, the muscles become accustomed to an increased range of motion, and when the stretch is released, flexibility is instantly improved. Hold the stretch for about 60 seconds at the peak, then slowly come out to a resting position.
How often should I stretch?
To really improve overall flexibility, stretching should be treated just like any other component of an exercise program. Dedicating at least 3 days per week to a structured stretching program can make a difference in your flexibility.
3 Favorite Runner’s Stretches
Standing Forward Bend
I love this one, and often ‘hang’ (haha) out here for a while. With legs perpendicular to the floor and knees locked, fold at the hip and let your head and arms hang towards the floor. You will feel the weight of your head gently pull the stretch on your hamstrings. Stay long enough and you will definitely move closer and closer to the floor.
Again, I hang out here a lot–but this is an advanced position. I recommend you begin with only one leg bent back to stretch and the other extended. Place your hands behind you on the floor as opposed to lying down on your back. Slowly bend at the elbows to lower into the stretch. If it feels good, you may rest on your forearms, or lie completely down. Repeat with the other leg if using the single leg modification.
Also be mindful of knee pain and stop immediately if you experience any knee discomfort.
Sitting on the floor, bring your feet together and grasp all of your toes together in your hands. With an engaged core and open shoulders let gravity do its work slowly stretching your inner thighs.
Making time to stretch not only improves flexibility, it reduces risk of injury, makes all workouts more effective, and improves the quality of your daily life. Give stretching a shot and experience the difference improved flexibility can make in your life.
This post is linked up with Jill Conyers for Fitness Friday…visit her site for more great info!