When it comes to jokes between runners, there are few more common than those about stretching, or rather the lack thereof. Often it’s a combination of not knowing what to do, boredom and time constraints immediately after a run, but what can we do to become more flexible without stretching?
You don’t HAVE to stretch
Whilst it’s not a bad idea for most people since many of us are tight in several areas of our bodies, stretching isn’t essential. Some people can seemingly get away without stretching with little apparent downside, at least when it comes to injury prevention. Ultramarathoner Hal Koerner notes in his book how he has never been someone who regularly stretches, and it hasn’t stopped him winning multiple races against the best in the world.
Personally I feel this may be more luck than judgement, and unfortunately most of us are a little more vulnerable.
Foam rolling/self myofasical release
There’s an enormous amount of choice with self massage tools these days. Gone are the days when foam rollers were all the same and weren’t necessarily that effective on some areas of the body. Now we have a selection of varying sizes, materials and surface textures to choose from so you can get into any area you need to. Add in massage guns and whatever else has been invented and not yet become popular, and you’re spoilt for choice.
Mobility through exercise
Yoga and Pilates are both well known for helping people to become stronger and more flexible, but they’re far from the only options.
I prefer to work on mobility and slow dynamic stretching through exercise, taking positions to the end of my current range of motion (ROM). This can be useful in prevention of injury as it allows our body to work at the furthest reaches of our sporting movement, but through using external resistance, I’m able to obtain some strength benefits also, meaning running faster or for longer becomes easier.
If you go down the route of Yoga, Pilates or heavier resistance based movements, it’s a more interesting process than static stretching and if you’re doing any of these already, more deliberate choices of poses or exercises means no extra time is needed thus removing the time to stretch barrier.
Since mobility in exercise is both my preferred method, and the one you’re least likely to have tried, here are a couple of exercises you can do it with.
Heel raised squats – helps with tight quads and hips – place a pair of Yoga blocks/thick books/weight plates on the floor around shoulder width. Place the heels on these with the forefoot on the ground. Squat with an early knee bend and more upright torso than would be used in a normal squat.
Split squats – calf stretch – from a lunge/split squat stance, move forward to a gentle calf stretch, before lowering towards the floor. If you go with a longer stance, and tilt your pelvis (tuck it underneath yourself) you can also stretch the hip flexors.
Romanian deadlifts – hamstring stretching – this variation of a deadlift allows a smaller knee bend with a much higher hip position than a standard deadlift. You’ll get plenty of strength, with the bonus of hamstring flexibility if you tilt the torso as far as possible (with good posture of course).
You don’t have to do static stretches. There are several options to help, often with other benefits. As always though, take into account your own situation and make any changes subtly with personalised professional guidance.
Written by Kyle Brooks, Running Coach based in Norwich, Norfolk