Sandy Rowe is a personal trainer and sports massage therapist based in Greenwich. She fully understands that when time is a limited resource, trying to fit time into your daily schedule to maintain your body can be tough. As a specialist in exercising and massage, she knows how to make the most of the time you spend exercising and to avoid injury. We have asked her for her top post run stretches to avoid injury and help with recovery as we are all guilty of skipping our stretches when in a rush or jumping straight into the shower and forgetting to fit them in!
As you workout, your muscles produce waste products (toxins). For these toxins to exit the body, they need to be pushed into the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system runs along side your blood, however, unlike your blood, it doesn’t have a pump. Instead of a pump, the body uses the movement of your muscles to push the lymphatic fluid towards lymph nodes where the toxins are cleansed. There are lymph nodes throughout the body; behind the knees, in the groin, armpits, behind the ears etc. The toxins eventually flow into your blood stream and are cleansed by your kidneys and excreted out of the body in urine.
So, how is this useful? Well, after a run, instead of coming to an immediate stop, use the last 3-5 minutes to slow down from your run pace to a steady walking pace. This will act as your cool down and flush toxins out of your body.
A reduction in the toxins in your muscles, will help improve how your body feels post workout.
Have you ever felt light-headed after a very intense run? This may be a 100m sprint or a 10km run. Your initial reaction is for your body to stop what it’s doing, sit down and try to get some composure back.
However, this could potentially result in you feeling worse, rather than better.
As you run, your heart rate increases to pump your legs full of oxygen rich blood. This allows your legs to keep moving, which in turn aids the movement of blood back to your heart (venous return). As you come to a stop, your heart rate rapidly decreases and you are no longer assisting venous return. This is called blood pooling.
Therefore, rather than come to an immediate stop after running, consider gently returning your heart rate to normal (60-80 bpm is the average for a healthy person) over a period of 3-5 minutes.
Flexibility is the foundation of exercise. If you cannot move, you cannot increase your endurance, strength or power. These 4 elements make up the pillars of exercise.
As you run your muscles are continuously contracting and expanding. As you lift your knee up, your quad is contracting, as your knee descends, it is expanding and lengthening. This motion results in changes being made to the muscles and over time an increase in endurance, strength and power occurs.
When you stop, the muscles are adapting to help you the next time you go running. As part of this process, you may feel you have less mobility after a run than you did before a run. To ensure that you maintain your functional range of movement, you should hold stretches for 15-30 seconds on each muscle group post run.
My top 5 stretches for runners, post run
1. Hip Flexor Stretch:
As we all tend to sit down for a large period of our lives, our hip flexors get very tight. Tight hip flexors result in being more quad dominant, resulting in hamstring and glute weakness when running. To ensure you can engage your glutes (largest muscle in the body) whilst running, this hip flexor stretch is a must post workout stretch!
- Come into a lunge and rest your back knee and foot on the ground
- Rotate your hips forwards, engage your core (belly button to spine)
- Gradually increase the stretch by pushing further forwards
2. Quad Stretch:
- From the hip flexor stretch, come back into an upright position
- Flick your foot towards the sky and reach backwards to grab your foot
- Be gentle with this stretch as the quad can be very tight and the hamstrings can become overly activated, causing a cramp
- If you cannot reach your foot, do this with your foot leaning against a wall or use a band around the top of your foot
- As the stretch starts to release the muscle, move further forwards to intensify the stretch again
3. Hamstring Stretch:
- From the quad stretch, rest the back foot on the ground again
- Slowly extend the front leg to straight (if possible) as you move your hips backwards
- Keep your hips square with the front of the mat, if they start to twist, come slightly up and realign yourself
4. Glute Stretch:
This is one of my favourite stretches, helping to activate and elongate your glutes.
- Come into a full press up position
- Bring your right knee half way between your hands and rest on the ground underneath your chest
- Your right foot should now be under your left hip
- Slowly slide your back foot towards the back of the mat and rest
- Move your hips from one side to the other if you cannot feel this stretch in your glutes, stop when you feel any tightness
5. Calf Stretch:
There are two variants of this stretch. The first is downward dog. You can use this as a warmup stretch for your hamstrings and calves by bending your knees alternately and trying to move your foot further and further towards the ground.
- Come into a press up position
- Press your hands into the mat and send your hips into the air adding more pressure through your hands until your legs are as straight as you can make them
- Try to press your hands further into the mat and sink your heels downwards
The second stretch is dolphin. If you do not feel the stretch in downward dog, rest on your elbows and see if you feel this stretch through your calves.