Tag Archives: stretching

Stretching Before Running

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When I was young, I stretched because my coaches told me to stretch. I have never been that  flexible, but I never really understood the benefits. Here are the things that we are typically told about stretching:

  • Stretching prior to any type of exercise gets the muscles ready for the more intense exercise that follows.
  • A well-stretched muscle moves through a full range of motion with less effort. Therefore, stretching prior to physical activity will help you conserve energy and thereby improve performance.
  • Because our muscles get cold and tight from hours of sitting or standing at our jobs, periodic stretching will keep the blood flowing and allow the muscles to move through a full range of motion.
  • A muscle is more flexible when it is warm and stretched, and it is less likely to tear or overstretch from an abrupt movement.
  • Stretching increases the blood supply to the muscles and joints.  This keeps the muscles supple and healthy.
  • After a workout, stretching your muscles will keep them from immediately shortening and tightening as they cool down.

stretchingIn high school, I ran both cross country and track. My cross country coach had us stretch before running and encouraged stretching after the workout. Our head track coach, however, made us run a mile first and then stretch. Both seem like pretty good ideas, but which is right? I have great respect for both of those coaches, so I am going to say that I agree with both coaches MOST of the time.

Right now, however, I am suffering a round of tight muscles in my calves. Over the past few weeks, when I stretched BEFORE the run it felt very artificial.  My muscles would not stretch unless I forced them. Bad idea! They just would not budge until I pushed to the point of pain… and the led to more pain and more tightness. In short, stretching a muscle that will not cooperate is a bad idea.

Does that mean that I should run without stretching? I tried. Bad idea. It just forced the muscle to stretch under duress, just like stretching before the run. That led to worse pain and increased tightness.

How do you stretch a muscle that is firmly against the idea? Stretching first is bad and stretching after a mile is bad… where do you go from there?

The Technical Truth about Stretching

An extensive meta-analysis of the research on stretching reaches two unavoidable truths:

  1. Static stretching, the old method of stretching and holding a stretch before your run, can reduce your power by as much as 5.5%.
  2. Dynamic stretching through gentle movement and gradually attaining your full range of motion is much safer and more productive.

You can find a lot of dynamic stretching ideas out on the web, but here is what is working for me:

  • Warm up the sore & tight muscles by slowly and carefully moving through their comfortable range first.  Not by running, but just gently going through your comfortable range of motion.
  • After the muscles begin to warm up, the comfortable range of motion will begin to gradually increase.
  • Take that warm-up/stretch combination as far as your muscles will comfortably allow in a few minutes.
  • Begin to run at an easy pace and gradually increase your speed.
  • Stop to do a little more dynamic stretching if you feel the need.

This may not be new to you, but I was never told to warm up the muscle and stretch simultaneously. I suppose you could say that I am employing a combination of the advice of both of my high school head coaches. It just goes to show that the lesson that you teach to youth may be lost on them in the moment, but they can keep learning from that advice years later.

I continue to have some tension in those muscles, but it gets better every day. When my muscles rebel, I placate them with my new process of warm-up & stretching.

If you have been struggling with a tight muscle and just can’t find the right process to loosen it up, you might give it a try.

Be careful. Don’t overstretch.

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The other item to add is about devices for stretching.   Here are the two products that I use to aid in the stretching process, not before a run but hours before or after.  They are both designed to work out knots in your muscles by rolling – like rolling out dough with a rolling pin.  You lay on the foam roller and use your body weight to apply pressure.  A lot of runners have found relief.  I most recently rescued my knees by using the foam roller.

foam roller

View Foam Rollers

the stick

View “The Stick”

The Stick, on the other hand, has handles and you press down to apply pressure.   I found this tool especially wonderful for my calves.  Oh, yes!

I hope these work for you as well as they have worked for me.  :)

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“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor

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Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

 

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & future runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

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Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

 

Ask P. Mark: Dealing with Plantar Fasciitis

Question 2 :  How can I recover from plantar fasciitis while training for a race?

I have been running mainly on a treadmill and yesterday after 4 miles my foot started to hurt. I had been sensing PF for a while, and tried icing, switching shoes and so on.   My plan is to take a week off, stretch, foam roll, ice, Advil and so on but is there recovery from something like this? I want to run this race so bad I feel it may be my last so I can focus on getting better since my prognosis has been dwindling.

P. Mark’s Answer:   I understand your pain all too well!  I have short calves, so I am always dealing with Plantar Fasciitis at some level. Every morning I spend the first 10 minutes trying to relax my calves enough to walk normally.  It is 10 minutes of PF pain.  It sounds like you are doing all of the right things with the stretching and icing…

I am not convinced that rest will really do the job. Rather than full rest, I would suggest running less and exercising your calves and feet more.

http://www.realsimple.com/health/fitness-exercise/workouts/4-foot-exercises-00000000013639/index.html

Most importantly, before you start running, your calves and feet need to be gently warmed up and as flexible as possible.  Start by working through your range of motion at each joint while bearing no weight on those joints!  Then, warm up the muscles through simple movements while bearing no weight on the legs.  Finally, warm up the muscles while bearing weight.

If you take the time to do these things before a run, the damage to your plantar fascia should be greatly reduced and it should begin to heal, even while you are still running.

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Please visit the Ask P. Mark page to post a new question.  Thanks!

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Muscle and Foot Relief: The Stick Rolling Massager

In the ongoing saga of tight calves and the foot problems they have caused, I have used several tools and tricks:

  • Stretching my already injured parts made things worse.
  • My plantar fasciitis night splints loosened things up enough for some temporary relief. I would recommend them to anyone with a long-term case of PF.
  • Rolling my foot across cold golf balls or frozen water bottles also offered temporary relief.

The one that really made the break-through and led to long-term healing, however, was “The Stick.”  This tool was recommended several times by my cousin who works in the field of therapeutic massage and sports medicine.  At first I resisted the notion that such a simple device could make a difference.  After all, it just looks like a few pieces of plastic tubing and a stick with handles.  After going through the list of tools and methods above, however, I was desperate!

I finally heeded my cousin’s advice and ordered The Stick from Amazon.com.  My Stick arrived in less than a week.  When it arrived I was both excited and disappointed.  It was smaller than I had imagined and it really did look like another fad piece of health equipment.

Wow!  Was I wrong!  There were not many instructions given, a sentence or two of specifics, just one warning, and a lot of suggestions via pictures.  Still, I had shelled out my $30, so it was time to try it.  After I rolled my tense, sore calves for about 45 seconds I could already feel it working its magic.  The Stick became my companion for the next week.  I rolled my calves when I first got up out fo bed, before and after a workout, and right before going to sleep at night.

I still carry tension in my calves as I always have, but The Stick helps me roll a lot of that tension away.  It is also great on cramps.  I saw one on television the other day during a college football game.  A trainer was working on the hamstring of the quarterback using The Stick.  I may not be an elite athlete, but I treat myself like one.  :)

As for my plantar fasciitis, it is fading away and almost gone.  I attribute this to my ongoing use of The Stick Rolling Massager.

Happy Calves = Happier Feet

Happy Running!

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The Gift of Running is now available in both paperback & ebook

Paperback Version – Amazon.com

Ebook Version – Kindle Store

Stretching, Injuries, & Overstretching

I have never been able to easily touch my toes.  Even when I was young and running the fastest times of my life, touching my toes was quite an ordeal.  On many occasions, I have managed to overstretch and not be able to reach peak performance just because I wanted to touch my toes.  Its probably because of my calves.

I have had several doctors tell me that my calves are too short.  I went to an orthopedic specialist for my knee problems.  He said that my knees would always be bad because of my short calves.  He prescribed short mileage and no hills.  Seriously?  This is what you tell a cross country and road runner?  You know I am not going to follow that advice, don’t you Doc?

Despite my issues with short, tight calf muscles, I put in many long runs training for marathons and I do hill work to get faster.  The question is not whether or not to do these things.  The question is how to manage the associated difficulties.

The things that everyone does, I need to do more carefully and better.  Warm-up, stretch, start slow and ease into a rhythm.  That is my routine when I am doing it right.  Unfortunately, I lost my momentum on that and have been having difficulties for a few weeks.  First, it was the soreness stemming from metabolic accumulation.  Lactic acid and other waste products were not being removed as fast as they were being produced.  I slowed down my running, but the tightness this caused continued the back-up.

I finally started stretching more carefully again and that begin to help.  Unfortunately, I was so excited by the results that I became overzealous about stretching.  My stretching fixed one problem and caused another.  The tightness in my lower calves went away, but my plantar fasciitis was activated.  I have faced this nemesis before, which may also possibly be related to my short calves.

My attention shifted to easing the pain and doing stretches for my plantar fasciitis.  There are several great stretches, but I again went too far, too fast.  Now I am nursing a sore spot at the bottom of my Achilles tendon on both legs.

This whole situation is a lot like the wreck that my daughter had on a rainy, winding road.  She had let the car go a little to far towards the side of the road and over-corrected a little bit.  The car was now over the yellow line with a car quickly approaching from the other direction.  She finally ended up hitting a tree on the side of the road that she first tried to avoid.

The lesson that my daughter and I have both learned is that over-correcting to avoid a slight problem can lead to a much larger problem!  A better strategy is to make small changes in your routine in order to correct problems.  If a problem comes on gradually, the solution and healing process will also be gradual.  Lesson learned!

Now, if I can follow my own advice, I should be running without any of these issues in about a week.  Patience is not just a virtue.  It is a necessity.

Happy Running!