Best stretches for runners – Part 2

Jamie Wood, owner/operator of Sanga Retreats

Jamie Wood, owner/operator of Sanga Retreats

Last week, I published the first part of a two-part series on the best stretches for runners. The awesome tips come from Jamie Wood, owner and operator of a Sanga Retreats in Costa Rica and Vancouver. She’s an incredible, talented, kind yoga instructor and she’s full of wisdom on how to make your body feel awesome – no matter how harshly we might treat it as runners.

Here’s is part two of my Q&A with Jamie.

Q: I’ve often heard that stretching before a run could actually cause injury. Warm up first, stretch after. But is there value in stretching before a run?

Absolutely! You never want to vigorously stretch cold muscles. That is the common rule of thumb. However,  you can warm up muscles through gentle stretches. The value of gently stretching the body before a run comes with the awareness of how your body is feeling before you tackle your run. A lot of the times we try to fit too many things into a day, constantly bouncing from one task to the next and not always listening to the subtle messages the body is sending.I’m sure we are all guilty at some point of leaving work and frantically rushing home to get changed and head out for a run or to the gym. Not once during that rushed, almost auto-pilot like setting, did we check-in with the body. The mind is driving that bus and it is saying GO GO GO. This bad habit can become very dangerous to our health. When there is no pause provided, we are just powering through to the next thing. You can cause injury to the body by pushing it too hard, create more stress because you are not giving the body or mind any rest period, and drain your adrenal glands, to just name a few risks.

Before each run you should set aside 5-10 minutes to check-in with your body. Do a scan from head to toe. Typically this would be done lying down on the floor face up. You want to encourage your body to relax in this position, so every time you come to it, your body knows to relax. With your palms facing up and feet opening out to either side, begin to focus on your breathing. Just these few seconds of pushing pause can have major benefits to the body. Draw the shoulders away from the neck, gently begin to roll the neck from side to side releasing any tension from the day. After 10 breaths I would begin gently stretching out the body.

  • Right / Left Body Stretch – Raise right hand above head. On an inhale, stretch the right hand behind you and point your right toes. Stretch, stretch, stretch as if someone is pulling you in the opposite direction.  Release. Relax the right shoulder, relax the right toes. Do this 3 times on the right side then repeat on the left. (Stretches entire right and left side of body).
  • Diagonal Body Stretch – Raise right hand above head, on an inhale stretch the right hand behind you and point your left toes. Stretch, stretch, stretch as if someone is pulling you in the opposite direction. Release. Relax the right shoulder, relax the left toes. Do this 3 times with the right arm then repeat with the left arm reaching and right toes pointing. (Stretches diagonally across the body).
  • Full Body Stretch – Bring both arms above your head. On an inhale reach the arms behind you and point the toe. Stretch, stretch stretch as if someone is pulling you in opposite directions. Release with an exhale. When you release keep your arms above your head just relax the muscles. Hold the stretch for min 3 seconds, release for min 3 seconds. Do this 5 times. (Stretches muscles in arms, legs, torso, while stretching spinal column to its fullest length).

The beautiful thing about this whole sequence is it will only take you 5-10 minutes, you will have gently stretched and “woken up” the entire body, and if there was anything that came up as painful during this, it is a great indicator that you should be mindful of that area or perhaps not engage in anything to strenuous for that day.

Q: How long after a run should you stretch? Is there value in stretching even after you’ve cooled down?

If you have come back from a long run (more than 90 minutes) your muscles will be quite depleted and fatigued. It is wise to take 10-15 minutes to let the body come back to its normal resting rate, and be very careful to stretch gently as to not cause more damage to the muscles. If you have come back from a shorter run you can stretch after 5-10 minutes but again, the key is being gentle on the body. You never want to stretch through pain, or rush your stretches. So if you are still on a runner’s high and feel like walking around the yard for 20 minutes, do so. Your body will still be warm. There is value to stretching when the body has cooled down, verses skipping the stretch entirely, however you must be more mindful if you are stretching at this time and do so gently. Ideally after a run, you should do your main stretching routine while the body is still warm.

Q: How long should you hold each stretch for?

You want to use your breath as a gauge. A full breath should be approximately 5 seconds for an inhale and 5 seconds for an exhale. You should hold a stretch for a minimum of 5 breaths, but try to shoot for 10. By training your lungs to breathe more fully and deeply, you will increase your lung capacity which will be very helpful during your runs. By becoming a better breather during your stretching, it will help you become a better breather during running. Every runner knows how important it is to find that rhythm with the breath. By learning how to develop the skill of deep breathing you will have a direct, positive effect on every other physical level of the body.

For more information on Jamie and Sanga Retreats, check out her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter or head over to her website. You can also check out her Pinterest page here.

Do you have any fave stretches?

Yoga retreat with Sanga Retreats in Toronto

A peaceful moment during a yoga retreat with Jamie in September 2012. This makes me wish it was summer again!

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