Stretching is a controversial subject in Sports Medicine circles. The best research evidence shows that stretching is not an effective tool to prevent running related injuries. But, it feels so good it must be doing something, right? So which stretches do we recommend for stiff, tight muscles after running sports?
So if we can’t use injury prevention to justify some stretching, why else would you do it?
One reason would be that if your muscles and joints are so tight you can’t achieve the range of movement needed for efficient running then doing some work on that will be helpful. Another would be that it relieves some of the tightness and soreness in your legs after a game or training session. Yet another would be that it is a chance to relax, practice some mindfulness and get in touch with the way your muscles are responding.
So what are our top 5 stretches for your legs after running? Try this easy flow, holding each stretch 30-60 seconds once or twice on each side
- Soleus: this is the powerhouse of the calf. The soleus makes up the bulk of your lower leg and needs a bent knee to get a stretch. Stand facing a wall, one foot slightly in front of the other. Now bend both knees forward and drop your butt back over your back foot and feel the stretch down low in your calf, almost in your Achilles
- Hamstring: kneel down on one knee, and kick your other foot out in front with your heel on the ground and your knee slightly bent. Bend forwards at the waist and rest your chest on your thigh. Lastly, straighten your front knee slightly and push back away from your front foot. You should always have some bend in your front knee and your chest down low on your thigh. You should feel the stretch in the middle of your thigh, not behind your knee
- Hip flexor stretch: While you are in this position, come up tall, plant your front foot flat on the floor with your knee bent 90 degrees. Now, tuck your butt underneath you, squeeze your glute muscles and feel a stretch in the front of the hip and thigh of the back leg. If you don’t feel anything, slowly push your shoulders and hips forwards at the same speed.
- Glute stretch: now kneel on both knees, lower your forearms onto the floor. Take one leg off the ground, straighten your knee, and cross it over the other foot and slide the straight leg backwards until you feel a stretch in your butt on the front leg. Relax your upper body and try and sneak back a little deeper for a stronger stretch
- And finally stretch your quads: lie on your stomach, bend your knee and reach back with your opposite hand to grab your foot. Pull your heel in towards your butt, keeping your hips level on the ground and your upper and lower legs aligned, no twisting at the knee!
Give these stretches a go a few times a week. Use them as a relaxing recovery tool to reduce some soreness and just switch off for a few minutes.
If you notice a muscle is consistently sore or tight and doesn’t feel better after stretching you may have a joint problem driving those symptoms, in which case we’d be happy to examine you, test your strength and flexibility and see if there’s a cause we can identify for you to work on.