Dynamic Stretching for Runners

If you haven’t realized yet…it’s getting cold out there! Here in Portland, it hasn’t been too too bad, but it’s definitely getting colder. I ran mile repeats on a nearby track a couple of days ago and did so in my usual short shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, but yesterday’s sprint workout on the track left a chill in my bones!

It’s the cold temperature outside that made focusing on dynamic exercises such a well-chosen presentation at Portland VegFest and it’s what makes this post that much more helpful as well.

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Speaking of helpful, it’s rarely not helpful to stretch. We stretch to prevent injury. You could try to sprint full speed with cold muscles or as soon as you wake up and you will get your body to move forward, but injury is much more likely to occur. Stretching is also important depending on the time of day that is run and the season. Morning runners could probably benefit a ton more than afternoon runners since afternoon runners have been warming up their muscles all day versus morning runners who have likely only been awake for 30 minutes or an hour. But when it’s cold, muscles need a bit more time to get warm and primed for an optimal workout. But the warming up of the muscles is often missed when stretching is solely done in a very common way. This less encouraged kind of stretching is called “static stretching” and while it is less encouraged, it is more known and common than dynamic stretching.  This is probably because team coaches and gym teachers drilled in phrases such as “Touch your toes” or “Reach for the sky” as early as 7 years old and they’ve been commonplace stretches ever since–ready to be used in a pinch when we actually remember to stretch.

23 Stretching before a track workout.

Dynamic stretching, though, involves, as the name implies, movement. This kind of stretching may also be referred to as “active stretching” or even “drills.” There are 4 main reasons why runners and other cardio enthusiasts (e.g. swimmers, cyclists, recreational sports players) should be including dynamic exercises in their stretching routine:

  1. Increase your heart rate  – Going right into the workout plan without adequate warming up is not something I’ve ever heard as advice. Warming up with dynamic stretching and/or with an actual warm-up jog is highly encouraged to get the heart rate a bit higher so that it’s not spiking from low activity level to all-of-a-sudden intense activity such as whatever the training plan is calling for.
  2. Mimic the muscle movement the activity calls for – Touching your toes does not take place when running and so it get your muscles moving in the direction you’re about to have them moving when you start your workout. A Skips and B Skips do, however, move your body forward and mimic the running movement of your workout, as will high knees and butt kicks.

22 Doing some butt kicks before a summer workout.

3. Open up the joints – This past July, I completed my first 12 hour ultramarathon event. I won’t go into details except for what is pertinent for this post. For the first 10 hours, I was feeling really good. My movement was fine; my spirits were high; and my pacing and place were both where I wanted them to be. I was on track to win the 12 hour road option with a total of 64.2 miles, but I had to complete the last 10.7 mile lap by the time the clock ticked 12 hours. During this last lap, I could not turn to the side; the slightest turn of my head to the side would cause my hips to turn and it would feel like someone just clamped vise-grips to my groin and hip areas. My point? I clearly neglected strengthening my hips and lower back and definitely did not open up my joints before beginning the ultra. Doing certain dynamic stretches such as leg swings and high-knee-hip-rolls (or high-knee hip abduction) will do wonders for allowing you to get the most of our workout without putting extra stress on your body and thus helping to prevent injury. The same can be said for movements that actively move your lower back muscles and ankles (e.g. ankle rolls or ankle rotations).

4.  Reinforce proper posture – Lastly, dynamic exercises are great for getting your body to remember what proper posture feels like when exercising either in the gym or cardio on the road (i.e. running). Typically, when you are doing dynamic exercises, you are focusing on stretch so much that you are nearly hyperaware of your body’s position and this tends to lead to better posture. Even if you aren’t hypeaware, you are likely to be stretching in a controlled environment at a moderate pace where you can pay extra attention to your posture to ensure you are doing them properly.

Now that you understand WHY you should actively stretch before running, here is a routine that I have found works for me and one that I use with my track athletes that I coach. They are done in the order they occur in (I suppose this can be adjusted as you see fit) and in a distance of about 30-40 feet.

  • High knees – not in place; go forward 30-40 ft.
  • Butt kicks – same as above
  • Calf Raises – foot movement is: step forward slowly heel-to-toe; raise your body on your tippy toes of the forward food, then repeat wtih other foot. Your body should be moving in a walking motion.
  • Forward lunges- do this while moving forward 30-40 ft.
  • Leg swings – Leaning on a wall or a tree or even a lamppost, swing your leg side to side (or forward and backward) about 6-10 times and then switch to the other leg; I sometimes repeat up to three times until I feel loose
  • Side lunges 
  • Monster walk – I don’t use the band as in the video although you certainly could. I also alternate legs each time.
  • High knee hip abductions
  • A Skips
  • B Skips

I end with the skips to get the heart rate back up and ready for the run! I also add a warm-up to every run I do for an additional injury prevention measure. Again, you can find many other exercises that seem easier or better for you. Try them out and build a routine that works for you! My routine is as follows: I jog back and forth in the parking lot; complete the stretching routine in about 5 minutes; begin my warm-up and immediately transition to my planned run or workout. After my workout I’ll stretch only what I feel needs stretching which is typically my calves and my quads. I won’t complete a whole routine again, but that’s just me!

If static stretching is what you typically do and have been doing, try swapping a couple dynamic stretches with static ones to get your routine more active until you can get to an all-dynamic stretching routine.

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Do you do any dynamic stretches that aren’t included here? How has dynamic stretching affected your running or exercising?

Here’s a great video that shows what A Skips and B Skips look like. You can find all of these exercises somewhere online to help you visualize them.

 

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