Very few runners actually like stretching. But stretching can help to build both strength and flexibility – and can save you weeks of running with niggling pain, or even months of inactivity while you rehab from injury.
Quad stretches are probably the most common stretches you’ll see runners do – standing on one leg and holding the ankle behind you. But why is stretching the quads so important and which quad stretches are best for runners?
“Once your muscles have been warmed up they become more pliable, meaning they will be easier to stretch. When stretching after a run, you will find that your flexibility will improve and your joints can move through different ranges of motion much easier. Stretching after running can help prevent cramps, soreness and muscle strains. Some of the other benefits of stretching post-run are that it increases your speed, stride length and running efficiency.”
The difference between static and dynamic stretches
“Static stretching is the classic stretch-and-hold technique used by many athletes and fitness enthusiasts,” explains Maritato. “This type of stretch may be held for 30 seconds to 1 minute and is often used to increase the range of motion around a joint and increase the length of muscles and tendons.”
By contrast, dynamic stretches “involve stretching a muscle through motion,” he adds. For example, walking lunges or clams.
So should you stretch before or after a run?
Long gone are the days where it was considered best to stand still and hold a couple of static stretches before heading out on a run, or indeed at the beginning of any exercise class. Instead, the best way to warm up is now considered to be using dynamic stretches.
“Runners benefit from more dynamic movement patterns which, as a result, lengthen the muscles and soft tissue structures,” says physiotherapist Lucy Sacarello. “A dynamic lunge, for example, gives greater long-term benefits than a static lunge, as it lengthens the muscle fascicles rather than just stretching the muscle fibres.”
Maritato agrees; “Dynamic stretching is recommended before running as a way to prepare the muscle and central nervous system for performance – it increases respiration, perspiration and heart rate that will prime you to run. Dynamic stretching also lubricates the joints and will improve your range of motion.”
So while static stretching remains the most popular form of stretching, experts tend to agree that static stretches should be saved for cool-downs or if you’re injured (where it might be wise to use a static stretch as part of your warm-up, rather than a more explosive dynamic version). “For this reason, the only time I would prescribe static stretching would be for pain relief and would be in addition to other exercises which would give longer-term benefit,” says Sacarello.
The best quad stretches for runners
Standing quad stretch
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and slightly bend one leg. Pull the foot of the other leg as far as you can towards your glutes. Ensure that your bent knee doesn’t go in front of your straight leg.
When in position, push your hips forward to increase the stretch and hold.
Repeat on the other leg.
Kneeling quad stretch
In a kneeling lunge position, reach back and pull your foot to your glutes. You’ll be stretching the quad muscles and hip flexor at the same time.
Hold, and then repeat on the other leg.
Kneeling quad stretch, against the wall
Facing away from the wall, place your left foot against the wall and walk your right foot out into the lunge position.
Lean forwards into the lunge and hold this position.
Repeat on the other leg.
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