Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Stretch Your Runs

By 2ndSkin Principal - Eugene Teoh 

I am currently going through a rehabilitation period. It depresses me that I have to cut back on my running mileage and indulge in more active rest. If you enjoy running and taking part in races, you would understand the feeling of restlessness and despair when you’re injured and need to reduce your running to a minimum whilst you manage your recovery and injury. This post is about what you can do to prolong your running and reduce your “downtime”.

I have a good strong feeling that at the top (or near it) of the wish list of most committed runners is to be able to run injury free and continue running regularly throughout the year. However, for most beginners and in a lot of cases even the regular and experienced runners, they tend to neglect the maintenance segments of running, and focus purely on the run itself. We always hear of training schedules, and doing intervals, LSD, speedwork and hillwork, but there is a % of training time we should all spend on what I would call maintenance work that a lot of us sorely neglect (including myself) and to dire consequences.

So what is it that we need to incorporate into our running routine that is as important as building the mileage itself? The answer is stretching and self-massage. Lots of people who find enjoyment in running, are those who find the surge of endorphins from a workout satisfying, which means they are the type of people who enjoy high capacity sports where you get your heart racing and your sweat glands into overdrive. And this is also the reason why they find the flexibility and stretching exercises to be an activity that is “not-exciting and too slow” and they do not spend enough time and effort on it. For a complete training program, flexibility exercises and stretching routines should be incorporated into a runner’s program and adequate percentage of time should be devoted to these activities.

Let me share with you my real life example. If we understand the mechanics of running, we know that whenever we run and kick our heels out behind us, our hamstring muscles contract and every time we land on our foot and push off, our calf muscles contract. Taking into account that the calf muscles are connected to the hamstrings and further up to the lumbar region, any aggravation to any of these muscle groups may and will affect the other muscle groups. Imagine running at a 60rpm cycle for 1 hour. That essentially means that your hamstring contracts 60 times a minute (once for every push off) and continues for one hour, which is equivalent to 360 times muscle contraction. Muscle contraction tightens and shortens the said muscle, so to balance the muscle usage; we should stretch and elongate the muscle group after running. This is where stretching movements come in. 

To compound that effect, if you are like me, being an office worker who essentially sits at the desk 80% of the time between 9 to 6, it gets even worse. In a sitting position, with your calves at a 90 degree angle to your hamstrings, you are putting your hamstrings in a semi-contractual position. So imagine the scenario: You run in the mornings before work 4 – 5 times a week, then go to office and sit down throughout the day, your hamstring muscles are virtually in contracting, and in a tight and shortened state most of the time. That is where stretching and self massaging exercises come into play and become an important feature that all runners need to incorporate into their routine.

I feel the need to share this information as I am currently experiencing the effects of not incorporating flexibility and stretching routines into my running program. My hamstrings are very tight, strung like a bow and that in turn has affected my lumbar region, giving me pain in my lower back and restricting my mobility. Therefore, instead of being able to run more and more, I am currently off my running shoes and having to loosen my hamstrings via painful stretching routines and self massage. One of my running friend calls the foam roller a “runner’s best friend”. I have to concur in that as I also understand now the importance of that inconspicuous piece of equipment to a runner. Rolling with a foam roller helps to loosen tight muscles, and releases scar tissue buildup as well as hitting your deep muscle tissues. Rolling can be a painful experience, but it is definitely a necessity.

There are many variations of stretching routines and foam roller exercises to target the different muscle groups. Just Google using relevant keywords like “hamstring stretch, foam roller exercises, ITB rehabroutine” and you will not be short of hits. So go on and incorporate this very important piece of routine into your running program. It will not only help prevent injury, but also make you a stronger runner and prolong your running life.

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