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Video:5 Stretches for Runners

with Jonathon E. Stewart

Keep your body flexible, injury-free, and performing at its best with simple stretches for runners. Try these five stretches before your next run.See Transcript

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Transcript:5 Stretches for Runners

Hey guys - Jonathon Stewart here for About.com. You've heard it again and again and again - the importance of stretching. Yeah, but really, what's the big deal? Well, tell you what - let's have that conversation again in about 20 years, and see who's wishing they'd have taken the time to stretch then. Or even 10 years. Or five. Hey, maybe even... tomorrow. Check it out.

Benefits of Stretching Before You Run

Stretching, for everyone - including runners - really does a body good. When done properly, it increases flexibility and the range of motion of your joints, which can improve your balance and keep you on your feet. It also helps improve circulation, relieve stress, prevent injury, and promote better posture and musculoskeletal alignment - which helps to keep your body from developing random aches and pains. I'm telling you, if all that came in a pill, you'd be eating them like M&Ms. But, since it doesn't, let's go it the old fashioned way.

Warm Up Before You Stretch

Before you run, before you even stretch, it's important to warm your body up first, as cold muscles are more prone to being pulled or torn. Start by doing any low-impact, rhythmic exercise for about five minutes. This can include walking, knee lifts, jumping jacks, or anything else that's pretty easy on your body but serves to warm you up a bit. Don't forget your core and arms, which need some warm-up love, too. Whew. Wow. Good workout. What? Oh. right. Still got the, uh, whole stretching and running stuff.

Stretching Best Practices

Next, some stretching basics. As you move into each stretch, go slowly, and no bouncing, '70s Jogger Guy. Allow your body to get to a point where you're feeling some tension, but no pain. Once you get there, hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds, and up to a minute if your goal is to increase your flexibility. Finally, don't forget to breathe. Holding your breath is usually associated with tensing your body, so relax, enjoy. This should actually feel good.

Running Stretches for Hamstrings

Next, the stretches. For your hamstrings, start in a seated position with one leg extended and the other bent and tucked in. With a very straight spine, slowly bend at the hips, bringing your torso forward. Do not let your back round or slouch, even if it allows you to get closer to your toe. Hold, and repeat with your other leg. Rounding your back is a good reason to avoid the old toe-touch stretch, which all too commonly puts undue stress on your lower back while working on your hammies.

Running Stretches for Quads

Same for that one where you kneel and then lay back to stretch your quads - if you don't know what I'm talking about, then you probably didn't have gym with Mr. Shivley in the '80s, and either way - let's stretch your quads this way. In a standing position next to something that will help you keep your balance, grab your left foot with your left hand and slowly bring your foot up behind you. Keep your thighs close together and your hips level, and don't push further if you feel any pain in your knees. Hold, and repeat with your other leg.

Next, from a standing position, extend your back leg behind you while slowly bending your front leg until your body is in a lunge position. Be sure to keep your front knee directly over your front foot, your back straight, and your toes pointed forward. Use your hands for support, and don't forget to breathe! Hold, and repeat with your legs reversed.

Stretch Your Achilles' Tendon

Next, as my old swimming coach used to say, grab a piece of real estate. Next to a wall or tree, place one foot in front of the other, bend your front leg and keep your back leg straight, and lean forward slightly, always keeping your spine straight. After holding for 30 seconds, slowly bend your back knee slightly to stretch your Achilles' tendon. These won't help you from getting shot in the ankle with an arrow, but they can help to prevent those nasty shin splints. If you are plagued with these suckers, try spending a few minutes air-writing the letters of the alphabet with your toes a couple times a day. This is also a part of your training that might benefit your two-year-old.

Running Stretches for Abs and Glutes

Next, from a seated position, get your abs and glutes with a spine twist. With one leg extended in front of you, cross the other leg over and place the sole of your foot on the ground. Keep your glutes solidly balanced on the ground, and twist toward your bent leg, keeping your spine long and straight. Hold, and repeat with your legs reversed. Finally, place your hands on your lower back, just above the hips, and arch backward as far as you can. Let your head follow, and hold.

And then you're off and running. Don't forget to stretch the rest of your body - your arms, neck, and core - when you have time, or right after your run, once you've cooled down with a five minute walk, of course.

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