I’m asked a lot about the running program that I used, the Couch to 5k Running Plan. I have spoken a lot about this plan, but one of the things I haven’t touched on is the importance of stretching. Everyone can remember the militant gym teacher telling them that stretching and a proper warm-up is important, and then can remember doing 5 jumping jacks before starting the basketball drills – hardly proper warm-up. When I was training as a junior badminton player, we did do a fair bit of stretching, but nothing compared to what most runners do. I can attest that one of the keys to avoiding injury for me was proper stretching, both before and after a run. Here is what I have done – it is simple, fast, effective, and has helped to ensure that I’ve stayed pounding the pavement for the last year. Feel free to tailor the workout, but I do have some tips on the minimum stretches to do.
I will once again remind everyone that I have no formal training in this, but I have a huge piece of advice. If you have a bad region in your legs – I have terrible ankles, having at one time or another ripped every ligament in both of them – make sure to incorporate stretches for those areas into what you are doing. Work on strengthening those spots – whether knees, ankles, quads or calves – as part of your warm up and cool down. This will truly help with your overall program, and your issues will hopefully lessen over time because you are taking the time to work and strengthen those areas.
Now, are you ready? The stretches that I recommend are all available from Cool Running, where most of the descriptions and images come from. Here is what I do, doing 2 sets of each:
1. Wall Pushup #1 Stand about three feet from a wall, feet at shoulder width and flat on the ground. Put your hands on the wall with your arms straight for support. Lean your hips forward and bend your knees slightly to stretch your calves. (I will stress that you should push down on your heels, and you should really feel the stretch in your hamstrings. This is a great warm-up stretch as it isn’t too complicated, not that any of them ever really are.)
2. Wall Pushup #2 From the previous position, bend forward to lower your body to waist height. Bring one foot forward with your knee slightly bent. Lift the toes of the front foot to stretch the muscle under the calf. Stretch both legs. (Remember that if you aren’t feeling this in the forward leg, then you aren’t doing it right. If you aren’t feeling any appreciable stretch when doing this, try pushing your buttocks down. That will usually help).
3. Heel To Buttock Stand on one foot, with one hand on a wall for balance. Hold the other foot with the opposite hand and raise the heel of the lifted foot to the buttocks (or as close as comfortably possible), stretching your quadriceps. Keep your body upright throughout. Change legs and repeat. (I increase the strength-building potential for my ankles by doing this without holding the wall. Keeping your balance in that situation really works the lateral strength).
4. One here without a picture. Seated on the floor, legs straight out and heels slightly apart. Point your toes to the ceiling, and turn them in to each other until they touch; you will be slightly pigeon-toed. Reach forward as far as you can, counting to 40. Repeat for a total of 3 reps. This not only stretches your hamstrings, but you will feel your lower back start to loosen as well. If you ever wake up with a sore lower back, this will really help to get rid of it. I alternate this exercise with number 5.
5. Groin Stretch Seated, put the soles of your feet together. With your elbows on the inside of your knees, gradually lean forward and gently press your knees toward the ground. I can clearly remember doing this stretch when training for badminton. I have to admit it never feels like it is that tough a stretch – but you will feel it when it is done.
6. Hamstring Stretch Lie down with one leg straight up in the air, the other bent with foot flat on the ground. Loop a towel over the arch of the lifted foot, and gently pull on the towel as you push against it with your foot. Push only to the point where your muscles contract. Stretch both legs.
Then, when I am done I really work my ankles and hamstrings. I stand on a stair, with my heels hanging off. I raise one leg off the stair and drop the other heel down, and after a count of three, I push up on the ball of my foot, raising my body up, then back down for a count of three. Push up hard, this will help to strengthen. I do this for 12 reps on each leg, then do twelve where I just “walk” by dropping the heels alternately, left and right, in quick succession.
Feel free to add any stretches you wish. This is the stretching program I used that ensured I did not have a running-related injury throughout my weight loss regime.