When Should Runners Stretch? Why Dynamic Warm-Ups Are Best
From ancient Greece to the present day, athletes have been stretching. Stretching can improve flexibility, blood flow, and overall tissue health. There are many types and applications of stretches, from yoga to static, to ballistic or dynamic. Your choices can be overwhelming, so what should runners do to prepare their body for running?
As a runner, it is important to prepare for movement, and a dynamic warm-up does this best. Research shows that dynamic stretching or warm-ups can better mimic or mirror the demands of running by focusing on movement rather than a static hold. A dynamic warm-up will take a joint through its full range of motion, addressing flexibility as well as increasing blood flow to the surrounding tissues. This will prepare the body for running, which is essential for injury prevention and performance.
At EW Motion Therapy, we utilize our 20+ years of experience to help runners like you develop an individualized warm-up routine that prepares your body for the specific movements required for your sport. Our ultimate goal is to improve your performance, prevent injury, and keep you running for life.
In this article, we will discuss when runners should stretch and how to incorporate a dynamic warm-up into your workout routine. With this information, you can know going into your workouts that your body is ready to hit the ground running.
When should runners stretch?
Before we talk about when a runner should stretch, let’s understand the difference between static and dynamic stretching. Static stretching is what we are all familiar with - it involves holding a position to stretch a specific muscle. This includes bending over to touch your toes or performing a calf stretch against a wall. A common one for runners is putting their leg up on a bench or the hood of their car to stretch their hamstring. But static stretching may not ultimately prepare you to run.
Dynamic stretching/warm-up mimics the demands of running by focusing on movement. A proper warm-up routine not only increases blood flow to tissues, which helps prevent injury, but also gets your entire body prepared for activity.
Even during their cool-down period, a dynamic recovery is more beneficial for runners. For example, ending your workout with a slow jog or a walk will give your muscles a chance to relax and recuperate. Stretching during recovery can be beneficial on certain occasions since the muscles are relatively loose after a workout. But for most of your recovery, focus on a slow, rhythmic exercise to slow your heart rate and help your muscles recover.
What exercises are suitable for runners?
During a warm-up, runners should focus on working their full range of motion. This includes exercises working on flexibility, as well as strength and stability. Just as flipping a light switch turns on the lights, a dynamic warm up turns your muscles on to move.
Exercise progressions that exaggerate running movements are a great place to start. For example, you could do high-knee skipping, butt kicks, ABC skips, and giant steps. These can help prime your body systems for running - these systems need to be ready to go to optimize performance and minimize injury.
Additionally, runners should focus on their running posture, which is directly correlated with performance. Exercises that incorporate side-to-side movements and that focus on form can be beneficial. For example, the popular karaoke drill can take you through different planes and ensure your body is ready to run.
How should I use exercises to train?
Incorporating dynamic exercises into your warm-up routine is essential to healthy running, and now you have some great information to get started. You could also incorporate these exercises into a training routine leading up to a race, which is essential for preparing your body and meeting personal goals.
Stretching is not inherently wrong - there is definitely a time and place for it. However, here at EW Motion Therapy, we choose to teach a dynamic warm-up over static stretching as a strategy prior to engaging in exercise or sport. We are passionate about helping runners improve performance and prevent injury. This is why we created our Run program - we want to foster a community of runners in the greater Birmingham area and Tuscaloosa who can race, learn, and grow together.
The first step in our Run program is the run evaluation. If you are a runner interested in improving performance, fill out our Request an Appointment form on our website, and someone from our staff will contact you within 48 hours with your next steps.