In last week's post I talked about loosening up and getting your muscles moving before heading out on a run (while paraphrasing Stripes). After the run is done, though, it's a pretty keen idea to make sure things aren't going to just seize right back up again.
I'm not a big fan of static stretching, and seldom do any. Instead, I take a few minutes after each run to walk and do some dynamic stretches that target the specific muscles and joints associated with running. This way my heart rate comes down gradually and I can help identify any issues that my latest foray on two feet may have spawned.
Nothing earth shattering here - just get those knees up above waist level with each step. Done quickly, this also makes a good warmup or drill, but since we're in cool down mode I just do it as an exaggerated walk. You may well feel this one in your hamstrings and butt, and it does provide some work for your core. I do anywhere from 20-30 of these, depending on how many it takes to feel like things are loosened up.
|Like you're going to skip-to-my-lou, only don't.|
Or do. It's fun. Go on, give it a try.
Another pretty self-explanatory one that makes a good warmup or drill when done with a bit of gusto. When done at walking pace with some attention paid to pushing your knee back while pulling your heel up, it'll help stretch out your quads and psoas (hip flexors). Do 20-30 of these, too.
This one is all about your calves, which do a huge amount of work while running. Turn around and walk backwards (as the name implies), stepping back with a bent knee and driving your heel down toward the earth. It works best if you can find a bit of a slope to walk down, but you can make it effective even on flat ground by bending your back knee to deepen the stretch. It will be less efficacious uphill. I do a lot of these because my calves are chronically tight: at least 60 steps, usually more like 80.
|It only takes a minute, and I live on a street that slants down toward my house.|
The downside is that every run starts uphill.
Grapevine / Carioca
Another running drill that works great as a stretch when slowed down. Facing perpendicular to your direction of travel (in the example it will be toward your left), keeping your hips and shoulders from turning and with a bend in your knees, step your right foot across your body in front of you, then step out with your left foot to un-cross your legs. Now step your right foot across your body to the rear, and step out with your left foot again to un-cross your legs. That's one rep, and I usually do a dozen or so in each direction.
The fast version looks like this: click for video.
If you've been running on uneven surfaces or otherwise challenging your lateral stabilizing muscles, you'll really feel this in your hips, glutes and illiotibial band if you get a good cross over and squat into it a bit. Making sure your heels ground with each step provides a bit more calf stretching, too.
|I heard it from some giant raisin in sunglasses.|
By now you should be pretty well cooled down from your run with your heart rate no higher than a brisk walk, so before you get chilled we'll use som big muscle groups for one last stretch. Stepping forward on a slightly bent knee, raise the non-load-bearing leg behind you keeping it as straight as possible while dorsiflexing your foot (pull your toes toward your shin). Bring it up as high as you can without falling forward, flexing your abdominal muscles to provide stability and protect your lower back. Your gluteus maximus may complain about this a bit, but you'll get a decent stretch through your hamstrings and hip flexors. I do about 16-20 steps like this, which is coincidentally about the distance from the bottom of my driveway to my front door.
|Then it's off to stuff my face!|
Once again I'll say that I can't make any guarantees about this routine being appropriate for your specific physiology or having any specific benefits when it comes to performance, health or injury prevention. I'm not a doctor, and I've never stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in my life, but for the few minutes it takes me at the end of each run I always feel better the next day for having done this little series of movements.
Why not give it a try and see if you feel the same?