Hardly any other picture is so closely associated with runners shortly before or after running as that of the bent leg during stretching. For many joggers, stretching is as much a part of running as lacing up running shoes and quite heavy legs from time to time. In this article, we want to look at what you should pay attention to when stretching after running and which exercises are the best for it in our opinion.
Because the effect of stretching is still scientifically controversial, we asked two professional runners how they personally feel about it: Germany's fastest marathon twins, the Hahner twins.
For many athletes, stretching is not exactly one of their favourite activities. That is why it is often missing on the training plan, especially for hobby runners. If you belong to this group, but would like to change that, our running experts Anna and Lisa Hahner have some tips for you and tell us about their stretching habits.
How often should I stretch?
As with so many things in life, the answer is: it all depends. A big difference is, for example, in your own goal, what you want to achieve with stretching. If you have a shortened muscle or want to prevent it, it can even make sense to stretch two or three times a day. To keep the muscle supple, stretching three times a week is a good number.
When should I stretch?
Before training, you should only hold the position briefly, "warm-up" and mobilise the muscle rather than "stress" it. Do not stretch immediately after intense exertion. A good time is a period of rest during the day, for example in the evening when you are watching a movie, listening to music or a podcast. Consider stretching as a separate training session and not as an annoying "add-on".
How much time should I take for a stretching unit?
Again, it all depends on the purpose, on what you want to achieve with stretching. The Hahner Twins always concentrate on a specific muscle group, e.g. the muscles around the hips. The programme then lasts about 20 minutes. For loosening up before and after the training, it can also be a five-minute stretching session.
Static vs. dynamic stretching
A major difference in the effect of stretching is the way you address your muscles when you stretch. This can happen in two ways:
- Static stretching: In static stretching, the stretch is held for a certain time (e.g. 15-30 seconds) and repeated two or three times. It aims especially to reduce muscle tone. It is intended to help prevent muscle shortening and accelerate regeneration. It is therefore well suited for stretching after running but tends to be counterproductive before sprints, for example.
- Dynamic stretching: In dynamic stretching, the muscle is not constantly stretched, but stretched and loosened again by "bouncing". It is intended to increase muscle tone and is therefore particularly useful for fast power athletes* such as weightlifters* or sprinters* to prepare the muscles for the respective activity. After running the main purpose is to reduce residual tension in the muscle, therefore you should not stretch dynamically.
What you should pay special attention to when stretching
As with any exercise, the same applies to stretching: Be aware of what exactly the exercise is supposed to achieve, take your time and make sure it is done correctly.
There are a few basic rules for stretching:
- Do not stretch "cold": The muscle should already be warm when you put it "under tension". Therefore, if you stretch before training, you should first do a short warm-up (5-10 minutes walking or trotting).
- Do not stretch jerkily: Please stretch slowly and carefully. You can injure your muscles with a jerky pull.
- Avoid pain: A significant pulling while stretching is fine, but never stretch so much that you have pain.
- Keep your back straight: A straight back ensures that you do the exercise correctly and actually stretch the muscles you want to stretch.
- Do not stretch immediately after heavy loads: After big loads like a half marathon or interval runs a lot of lactate accumulates in your muscles. Then stretching can even cause muscular damage.
Upper calf muscle (Musculus gastrocnemius)
Take a long lunge and lean your arms against a wall or a tree. Both feet point forward. Shift your body weight to the front leg and lower the heel of your back leg to the ground. Stretch your back leg until you feel a stretch in the upper calf muscle.
Lower calf muscle (Musculus soleus)
The exercise is similar to the previous one. Go into a light step position and a very light squatting position. Place the heel of your back leg on the floor and bend your knee until you feel a stretch in your lower calf.
Hamstrings (Musculus ischiocrurale)
Stand up straight. To stretch the back thigh, keep your legs stretched. For example, bend forward with your upper body until your fingertips touch the floor, which should create a significant stretch in your thigh. There are several variations, e.g. stretching with crossed legs and stretching the leg to be stretched forward.
Quadriceps (Musculus quadriceps femoris)
One of the classics par excellence among the stretching exercises! Stand upright and bend your leg backwards. Use your arm to pull it even more towards your bottom. Important: embrace the ankle and not the foot!
Hip flexor (Musculus iliopsoas)
Take an extra large lunge, where your front leg forms a 90° angle between your calf and thigh, while the back of your foot of your back leg rests on the floor. Breathe in and out deeply and stretch a little more with each exhalation.
Gluteal muscle (Musculus piriformis)
Stand up straight. Place your lower leg on the thigh of the supporting leg. Bend your leg so that your knee points outwards. Make a slight bend to apply gentle pressure to your knee to stretch the gluteal muscle. When done correctly, your posture here resembles a "4". The exercise resembles the "dove" in yoga - one of the favourite exercises of the Hahner twins.