It is important that we, as runners do not overlook the importance of stretching our muscles following a day of hard work and activity. Runners World coach Jess Movold explains…
“When we sleep, our bodies often tighten up and, depending on our sleeping position, our muscles reduce in length and remain shortened for an extended period of time, for physical activity, our muscles should be lengthened and loosened."
Stretching and loosening your muscles reduces discomfort and prevents injury. By completing the stretches below first thing in the morning, this will not only stimulate your muscles and increase your blood flow, but it will set your mind for the day ahead, leaving you feeling relaxed and relieved of any built up tension in your body.
It is important to note that you must stretch muscles slowly for a duration of no more than 10 seconds, making sure you do not overstretch your cold muscles, and breathe slowly through movement to regulate your speed. Now, grab your yoga mat and clear some space on the floor to begin your stretches.
Starting from top of the body, working your way down:
With your feet flat on the floor, slowly bring your chin to your chest and start to roll your head from left to right bringing your gaze to the ceiling, rotating your head, moving gaze back to the floor. Make sure you are breathing through this movement and moving very slowly to avoid overstretching muscles in your neck. Repeat three times from left to right, and three times from right to left. This exercise will help to relieve tension in the neck from sleeping and improve your posture, very important for when you are running to avoid moving with hunched posture.
With your feet remaining shoulder width apart, slowly bring your chin to your chest and start to roll your body down so you are folded over your knees, soften your knees and remain there for three seconds. Once paused, slowly bring yourself upright, while raising up think of each of your vertebrae as stacking on top of each other to achieve perfect posture and avoid quick movement. It is very important to breathe through this movement and move slowly to avoid harming your back or hamstrings. This exercise is perfect for spine mobility and stretching your upper back and hamstrings to prepare you for the constant use of these areas while running.
Hip Flexor Stretch-
As you are standing upright, place your hands on your hips to improve stability and step your left foot forward, keeping both feet facing straight ahead. With your back leg straight, avoid arching your back, keeping your hips square, and facing forward. Slowly bend your front leg while pushing your right buttock forward until you can feel a stretch across the front of your right hip joint. Breathe through this movement and hold from 8-10 seconds, repeating on the other side, make sure you are not moving too quickly or overstretching your hip. This stretch is great for preparing your hips for running, especially long distance as this joint is constantly being used and is most efficient when loose to allow large strides.
With your feet shoulder width apart, reach your arms straight above your head and clasp your hands together with your wrists facing outwards. Making sure your arms are straight, tense your calf muscles and your glutes while slowly rising onto your toes. Make sure you are elongating your neck and your vision is high and in front of you, while taking deep breaths in and out and reaching your hands as high as possible to feel full stretch in the back. Hold this stretch for 3-5 seconds and repeat twice. Complete this stretch slowly, aware of your body to prevent muscle cramps and overstretching. This stretch is perfect for elongating your posture and preparing your muscles for running while relieving neck tension and reducing arm stiffness. Make sure to avoid tensing leg muscles if they are injured as this may cause further damage to those areas.
For the last and final stretch, this can be completed standing up or sitting down. Focusing on one foot at a time, point your toes down towards the floor and slowly rotate your foot in a circle clockwise as if you are drawing a perfect circle with your toe. This can be done while holding your foot by the heel, guiding the foot around, to increase support if needed. Complete this exercise 3-5 times on each foot making sure movement is slow and precise. This exercise is great to increase mobility in your ankle, useful for trail runners or those completing sessions on various terrains, this will also help to loosen any tension from previous exercise and prepare you for the run you have planned for the day ahead.
Try implementing one or all of these movements into your morning routine to maintain optimum use of your muscles while running and to focus your mind to prepare you for the day ahead.