Track runners do more than just run to build speed. If you want to not only become as fast as you can but also become more resistant to injury, develop better coordination and become a stronger athlete overall, you need to do stretching and flexibility exercises to round out your arsenal. Note that before you stretch, it's a good idea to do several minutes of light jogging to warm up the relevant muscles.
The Calves and Achilles
Your calf muscles, the bulkier gastrocnemius and the soleus underneath, and your Achilles tendons act as levers that extend the foot downward at the ankle. To stretch the calves, lean against a wall with one extended one leg extended sufficiently far behind you that you feel tension in your calf when you place that foot flat on the ground. Hold this position for 10 to 12 seconds and then bend the knee slightly so that the stretch migrates from your gastrocnemius to your soleus. Hold this stretch for another 10 to 12 seconds. Finally, bend your back leg and lower your rear end toward the heel of that foot, which stretches the Achilles. Hold this for 10 or 12 seconds, then stretch the opposite leg.
Your quadriceps muscles, in the front of your thighs, powerfully extend your lower leg at the knee and to a lesser extent flex the thigh at the hip. To stretch them, stand on one foot and hold the other foot behind you at the ankle, with the thigh of the back leg should perpendicular to the floor. Place your hands on your hips and rotate your pelvis backward. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
Your hamstrings span two joints -- the knee, where they flex the lower leg, and the hip, where they extend the upper leg. To stretch these muscles, sit on the floor with one leg straight in front of you. Bend your opposite knee wide and place that foot against the inside of your outstretched thigh. Bend forward from the hips and reach toward the foot of the outstretched leg, keeping your back straight. Hold this stretch for 10 to 15 seconds and repeat it on the opposite side.
The Glutes and Hip Flexors
Your glutes are the big muscles of your butt that extend your thigh, as when you rise from a chair. To stretch the glutes, sit on the floor with your right leg straight in front of you. Bend your left leg 90 degrees and put your left foot flat on the floor on the outside of the right knee; this should cause you to feel tension in your left glutes. Use your right elbow to pull your left knee closer to the floor and enhance the stretch. Hold this for 10 to 15 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.
The Hip Flexors
The hip flexors, chiefly the psoas group, flex the thigh at the waist. Stretching these can feel awkward at first. To do so, take a knee and place the other foot flat on the floor ahead of your body, almost like Rodin's "Thinker" sculpture. Tilt your weight forward until you feel tension in the front of your left hip. Hold this position for 20 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.
L.T. Davidson has been a professional writer and editor since 1994. He has been published in "Triathlete," "Men's Fitness" and "Competitor." A former elite cyclist with a Master of Science in exercise physiology from the University of Miami, Davidson is now in the broadcast news business.