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Running Help: How to Properly Stretch and Improve Performance

Every serious runner knows that stretching is a huge key to both performance and keeping the body healthy. Just a little bit of stretching can go a long way toward accomplishing your goals but can it also make you a better runner? OhioHealth Athletic Trainer Amy Harrison has some tips and tools on how to properly stretch your body so you can flex your muscles on race day.

Hamstring Stretch

Keeping your hamstrings stretched does more than prevent injuries to this important muscle. It can also help improve posture and your flight phase, which occurs while both feet are off the ground while running. “If your hamstrings are tight you are not able to fully extend your knee during the swing phase of running, which decreases distance traveled during your flight phase,” says Harrison. To help prevent serious injuries or slower times, perform this stretch by keeping your front knee straight and your hips and shoulders square. Then, lean forward at the hip until you feel stretching at the back of the leg.

Hip Flexor Stretch

Hip flexor tightness is considered a common ailment, generally caused by prolonged sitting. For runners with this issue, injuries such as back or hip pain can result from the tightness which could limit the ability to propel forward during a run. To perform this stretch, start in a lunge position and tighten glutes on the back leg while tilting your hip underneath you. Harrison says, “Keep your chest up and tummy tight.  You should already feel a stretch but to increase the stretch push your back hip forward slightly.”

Piriformis Stretch

Tightness in the piriformis muscle can lead to piriformis syndrome or sciatica, both of which can cause considerable pain and in some instances, prevent running altogether. Harrison says that regular stretching of the piriformis can prevent these injuries from occurring. “Start by laying on your back with your legs in a figure four,” says Harrison.  “Lift your legs into the air, pulling the bottom leg toward you and pushing the top leg away from you at the knee.”

Calf Stretch

Keeping calves loose and limber can prevent some serious aches and pains in runners. Stretching these muscles don’t just prevent calf pain. Achilles tendons, feet and your overall performance are also spared in the process. A basic stretch that can be performed just about anywhere can help runners avoid injury and continue training for a new personal best. “Place one leg behind you and lunge into the front leg while keeping the knee straight and heel down of the back leg,” says Harrison.

Adding just a couple of minutes to your running routine to perform these simple stretches could improve your overall fitness. Improved fitness could be the key to unlocking your personal best!