Stretching improves the range of movement in your joints and it is very important that as a runner, you do some sort of flexibility work to perform well and stay injury free. For many of us, the ankles and hips are stiff and tight due to years of inactivity and due to wearing improper footwear. As these joints take a lot of stress in a high impact activity like running, you need to do some mobility work for sure before clocking miles.
But the question is… what to do and when?
Dynamic Stretches: These are easy drills in which you are continuously moving in order to get more range of motion in a particular joint or in a series of joints. For example, Shoulder Circles, High Knee Marches, Straight Legged Walks, Toe Walks or Heel Drops on a step. These help to prepare you for an upcoming workout as they lubricate the joints and improve the range of motion of the joint. An added benefit is that these stretches prepare your muscles for the upcoming stress of workout along with increasing heart rate and core temperature of the body. These are a great pick for warm up before a workout session.
Static Stretches: Stretches that are held for a longer duration are called static stretches. A hold of 20+ seconds is ideal and you can go up to a few minutes as per personal requirements and tolerance levels.
These stretches actually increase the length of the muscle fibers temporarily and makes them adapt to that length if done repeatedly. If you are not too fatigued after your workout, you can spend a few minutes doing these stretches (like Overhead Biceps Stretch, Cobra Pose, Butterfly Stretch etc.) to help in faster recovery but don’t forget to rehydrate yourself and grab your post run snack / shake before starting your cooldown stretches. Static stretches work well if you have muscle imbalances, injuries related to some specific joints and / or rehabilitation requirements. There is very little evidence of increased muscular strength by just performing static stretches. Improving muscular strength requires weight bearing activities.
Core Exercises: As the name suggests, these target the CORE of the human body. Every muscle tissue that connects directly to the spine is Core. Majorly Transverse abdominis, Obliques, Pelvic Floor, Abdominals are considered as core muscles but you can’t ignore Pectoralis, Serratus, Lats, Lumbar fascia and Gluteal muscles as they are major movers in most of the activities. Core mostly works as a stabilizer when the other body parts are in motion. But you must train your core as a mover and as well as a stabilizer to gain optimal strength and stability. A strong core makes many human movements clean, pain free and effortless. A strong core prevents proximal and distal injuries. Transfer of forces from arm to leg and leg to arm are transmitted through the core so we must train the core at least twice a week to build strength and stability in our body. Good stability exercises are Planks, Dead Bug, Bird Dog while mover exercises include Sit Ups, Leg Raises, Russian Twists.