Running Stretches for Beginners

Stretching can address imbalances in muscle development.
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Once you've seen the physique of Olympic sprinter Carmelita Jeter, there's no turning back. If she can be that powerful and look that beautiful, why can't you? When it comes to stretching as a beginner runner, you're in luck. You only have to do five to 10 minutes of stretching after a workout to improve your flexibility. You can even stretch at night while watching TV. Those few minutes of touching your toes or rotating your shoulders is enough to sustain your new trek on the running track.

When to Stretch

There are conflicting views on the need for stretching before a run. Four-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier Budd Coates and Jeff Galloway, author of “Running: Getting Started,” don’t encourage stretching for novice runners. Galloway’s surveys reveal that regular stretching is the “leading cause of injury.” Lewis Maharam, the medical director of the New York City Marathon, also asserts that stretching doesn’t prevent injury or improve a runner’s performance. However, other studies support the traditional view that stretching during a warm-up can help muscles to contract more powerfully as well as reduce the risk of injury. While stretching after a workout to improve overall flexibility can be beneficial to runners, whatever works best for you is good for you.

How to Stretch

When you stretch, you want to target the major muscle groups, such as your legs, hips, trunk, shoulders and arms. Structuring a stretching regimen, begin with calves and work your way up, or vice versa. Before stretching, perform a five- to 10-minute warm-up with a light cardiovascular activity, such as a spin on a stationary bicycle, a jog or jumping jacks. Use deep breathing, or inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply, when you stretch. Inhale at the peak position of a stretch and exhale to extend the exercise’s range of motion.

Types of Stretches

Beginning runners can engage in two types of stretches: dynamic and static. Dynamic stretches involve sweeping movements. Examples include arm, leg and ankle swings, torso twists, head rolls and hip circles. To do a leg swing, move one leg forward and backward from a standing position. For hip circles, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and rotate your hips in clockwise and counterclockwise directions. Perform 10 to 15 repetitions of each dynamic stretch. Static stretches include exercises for the iliotibial-band, hips, glutes, groin, hamstrings, back, quads and calves. Pull one foot up behind you until it almost touches your buttocks to stretch your quads. To stretch your back, get on all fours and arch your spine like a frightened cat. Hold peak positions in static stretches for 10 to 60 seconds, and avoid bouncing to extend the range of motion.

Benefits and Precautions

Flexibility is an important component of good health, particularly as you age. The advantages of a regular stretching routine include better posture, coordination and circulation, increased mental and physical relaxation, and lower levels of stress and anxiety. If you’re suffering from a strained muscle, stretching can exacerbate or even lead to more damage to the injured area, according to the Mayo Clinic. And stretching is not a good luck charm -- it doesn’t guarantee protection from various injuries, such as those caused by overtraining.

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