Stretching and Yoga and Rolling, Oh My!

This week, I began coaching a half marathon training group. I was not too surprised to see that the pre- and post-run routines of many of my runners included a bit of awkward shuffling, and a half hearted calf stretch. Most runners underestimate the value of a good stretching, warm up, and cool down routine in injury prevention. And, for many newer runners, or runners transitioning to a distance at which recovery becomes super important, just don’t know what to do. Enter the awkward shuffling. This post is dedicated to pre-rehab, in hopes that it will inspire just one of you to begin cultivating a stretching. rolling, and strengthening routine that promotes injury prevention.

Before beginning a long run, it’s a good idea to warm up. Most runners know this, but few heed this sound advice, myself included. My desire to warm up properly when it’s 10 degrees outside is limited, but ample research supports the value of a dynamic warmup in injury prevention. Maybe you’ve heard the stretching cold muscles causes injury advice. That’s true, but a warmup that includes dynamic (read: not static) stretching can activate stabilizing muscles and warm up large muscle groups – both good things. A good dynamic warm up includes key movements that activate muscles in the legs and core. Start with a few walking lunges. Do some old school butt kicks. Try a few leg swings to activate the glutes. Finish up with a few tippy toe walks or toy soldier walks. Simple. Spending 5 minutes on this easy series will not only help with warm up and neuromuscular activation, but will likely prevent simple strains and other nagging injuries from taking hold. Here’s a video of another version of a dynamic warm up that focuses on neuromuscular activation (especially good if you’re training on uneven surfaces. like trails).

After your run, cool down properly. I can’t emphasize this point enough. It isn’t good for the body to come to an immediate and complete stop. The muscles and circulatory system do not see stopping the Garmin and lying on the grass as a cool down. Cool down with a few minutes of gentle jogging or walking, then, return to the pre-run dynamic movements. Stretch the body with dynamic moves before static moves. After the run, stretch the key running tight spots – glutes, hamstrings, quads, IT band attachments, and calves. Like yoga? Try a few poses. The best post-run poses for runners include triangle, pyramid, pigeon (or reclining pigeon), happy baby, and spinal twists.

Keep loose in between runs with a strengthening and stretching routine that highlights key muscle groups used in running. I may be biased since I am a yoga teacher, but yoga is a great way to improve muscle activation and build stamina while increasing flexibility. Yoga classes which feature vinyasa, or movements linked with breath, can be particularly useful for runners, as they emphasize dynamic motions and more complicated muscular movements in a series. Look for a yoga teacher who is an athlete, or ask other athletes which yoga classes they prefer. With so many styles to choose from, there’s a yoga class for everyone.

For muscle maintenance, nothing beats a regular session with a foam roller. A foam roller is just what it sounds like – a cylinder, or roller, made of foam. By positioning the roller on the body and then rolling the body across the roller, the runner loosens up muscles and breaks up adhesions that can cause painful injuries. Foam rollers are inexpensive and easy to use. If you’re new to foam rolling, check out this helpful article and video series about self-massage with the foam roller. Aim to foam roll between once a day and twice a week. Many runners also like The Stick for self-massage. The Stick is a thin pole with a number of rolling beads set into it. The Stick is great for precision massage in tight spots that might be inaccessible to the larger foam roller. The Stick is also much smaller than a foam roller and easily transported. I carry a Stick in my running bag so that I have it for every run.

The bottom line – a good system of pre-rehab that includes massage, stretching, and strengthening, can be an important step toward staying healthy and injury free. Thinking about injury prevention before and after every run can not only help in preventing nagging running injuries, but can improve performance through muscular activation. So, instead of shuffling awkwardly before your next run, try a dynamic warm up to give your body, and your mind, a boost.

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