Running is the oldest and most popular sports in the world. Most runners feel that running is fairly simple, when in reality it is very complex. Running is one of the only sports that gives the whole body a work out. Leg strength and cardiovascular endurance play huge roles in the success of a runner, but they are not the only things that measure ones running ability. Upper body strength and back support are also important in running. Since athlete's's bodies are made up entirely of muscle, they must exercise often in order to take care of themselves and prevent injuries. Muscles are like any other thing in the world, the more you use them the stronger they get. Running long distances is strenuous on the muscles and if they are over worked and under cared for they can be damaged. Running causes the muscles that are active to become strong and less flexible, whereas the opposing muscles that are relatively under used become weaker. When muscles are being used they expand and contract often. If the muscles were not used in a while they usually get sore from the work out. Since muscles are the most important part of being athletic, proper care should go into maintaining them. Stretching before and after runs is a perfect way to care for your muscles.
The three main reason why stretching is so beneficial to a runners body is: it reduces the risk of injury, prevents muscle soreness after exercise, and it improves athletic performance. What is actually happening to the body during a stretch is very complex. Each muscle contains stretch receptors which attach themselves to the working part of the muscle called, muscle fibers. The stretch receptors measure the degree of the stretch, sending a message through the spinal cord to the nerves that control the contraction of the muscle where the receptors are. As the runner stretches more intensely the receptors begin to send out pulses harder and more rapidly. These pulses exceed a certain frequency, and the stretched muscle contracts and shortens, preventing overstretching.
Unfortunately, stretching is not done willingly by runners. Even though it would only take an extra five to ten minutes on top of the one or two hour run, most runners choose to skip stretching. There are numerous reasons why stretching is so unpopular. First and most important is that stretching hurts. Since runners feel pain when they are stretching they get nervous that they may be doing it wrong, hurting their muscles rather then helping them. Of course there are dangers of stretching though. Over stretching is a common problem that some runners face. Overstretching occurs when the runner keeps stretching a muscle that is already stretched out. This causes the muscle to tear and the runner will not be able to run again until the muscle is completely healed. Another stretching related injury is improper stretching, this only occurs when a runner improperly stretches their muscle. In order to prevent improper stretching, the runner must be familiar with each stretch they plan to do.
Since every muscle is different some stretches help some parts of the body, and some are useless. To solve this problem we must break stretching into four different categories. The first kind of stretching is called Ballistic Stretching. Ballistic stretching involves the body bobbing up and down forcing a tight stretch out of a muscle. This is the least effective way of stretching and the most dangerous. It is very easy to pull a muscle by ballistic stretching. The only positive affect that ballistic stretching has on the muscle is activating the stretch reflex, causing the stretched muscle to contract rapidly so the athlete can bob up with remarkable speed. Ballistic stretching is mainly done in high school sports. The second type of stretching is Passive Stretching. Passive stretching involves a partner applying additional pressure to increase the intensity of the stretch. Passive stretching is used mainly in gymnastics and often poses danger to runners. The third form of stretching is Contract Relax Stretching. Contract Relax Stretching is rather complex and takes practice in order to make the stretch useful. The muscle that is going to be stretched is actively contracted and then stretched immediately after it relaxes. This stretch utilizes the inverse stretch flex. This form of stretching is useful for all sports because of its effectiveness to all muscles. The fourth and final type of stretch is called the Static Stretch. The static stretch is the most commonly used stretch amongst runners. The static stretch is held for 30 to 60 seconds, allowing a slow build up of tension in the muscle. Since this stretch is done so slowly, the stretch reflex is not activated. Static stretching is popular amongst runners because it causes very little muscle tension build up.
Once the runner chooses the type of stretch they plan to use they must spend five to ten minutes stretching their upper and lower body. The runners back and neck must be stretched thoroughly in order to minimize chance of injury in those areas. Some runners like to engage in a light jog before stretching to get their blood flowing. As long as the run is not to intense there should be no problem with a short jog before stretching. Just because a runner may only run for thirty minutes, they should still spend five to ten minutes stretching, as if it were a three hour race. Once the run is over the runners should catch their breath and then stretch again. This final stretch loosens the tight muscles and prevents cramping. Runners who jog daily should definitely stretch after all runs to prevent soreness in the following days run. Most runners do not stretch after their runs because they are usually tired and sore.
In order for a runner to get the most out of their stretching they must devise a stretching program. The first step a runner should take to create such a program is deciding how long the program should last. If the runner is a seasonal runner the program should start six weeks before the season begins. Once the program begins the runner must stretch every day changing the stretches daily. By changing the stretches periodically every muscle in the body will get stretched evenly within a few days. Even if the runner is not planning on running every day, five to ten minutes a day should still be spent stretching so that the muscles don't get weak. Stretching takes practice, so start with the easier stretches and then build up to harder ones. Once the runner feels tightness in the muscle being stretched, they should hold the stretch for thirty to sixty seconds. At no point during the stretch should the runner feel any discomfort of pain. If the runner sticks to this program there will be guaranteed results. Not only will there be an adequate change in their performance, but the runner will look and feel better during and after runs.
After seeing all of the positive effects of stretching it is unbelievable to still see experienced runners not stretching their muscles.
"It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of injury prevention and treatment to the career of a successful athlete." Marty LiquoriUnfortunately, this quote couldn't be anymore true. All it takes is one tear or strain in an important muscle to end a running career. Even if a runner does recover after pulling a muscle they will never be one hundred percent healed, and it is possible for that muscle to give out again at any time during a run. This is why five to ten minutes a day is a small sacrifice to pay for a lifetime of enjoyment.