Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Stretching 101: Making the warm up and cool down easy!

All too often runners are perplexed when they try to design their own warm up and cool down. We all face the difficult task of fitting our long run around the family's schedule or sneaking in a short one at lunch break. To add a 10 minute warm up and adequate cool down after can be a daunting task, but it can help prevent overuse injuries. Here are some tips to minimize the thinking and motivate you to do it:

Dynamic warm up:

1. Count it in your mileage. As you do your knee ups and butt kicks, keep moving forward. This will help you get warm and not worry about "adding" more to your already busy day.

2. Walking doesn't count. Hip swings, side stepping and lunges hit a variety of muscles that walking alone may not warm up. Get your body ready for the ballistic nature of running.

3. Warm up before you head out. If rolling on the ground at the track or in front of the neighbors is embarrassing, do it in your living room before you head out. After you drive to your local running spot, be sure to do a few minutes of warm up when you get there.

4. Make it a priority. Warming up and cooling down may save you some money that you would usually spend at the chiropractor, massage therapist or physical therapist! One trip to a PT or chiro could cost as much as a new pair of shoes!

5. Still lost? Try this. One of the best dynamic warm ups that I like to give my patients is Lesley Paterson's 10-minute dynamic warm up. There is also a group of high level runners using Meb Keflezighi's active isolated flexibility routine as a dynamic warm up. Coach Jay Johnson also has some tips here.

Cool Down:

1. Get back to normal length. After using your muscles for a certain number of miles where they are contracting extensively to help you move, it is important to restore the length. This can prevent injury, as muscles are not staying shortened over the course of time and pulling on tendons/bone.

2. Do it whenever. My husband regularly performs his stretching routine after brushing his teeth. It is part of the routine and he claims that it relaxes his muscles and helps him sleep better. Whether you read or watch TV at night, make it a part of you daily routine. Whenever you have 10 free minutes post work out, be it before you have to get the kids, before you step in the shower or while you wait for your pasta to cook, do it then.

3. Don't stretch a cold muscle. If you have been walking around the house then you can stretch. If you have been sitting, ease into the stretches gently. Remember - we're trying to prevent injuries, not cause them.

4. Enjoy it. Use this time to do some relaxation exercises, visualization or reflection in your head. Sports psychologists encourage the relaxation technique where you concentrate on the muscles relaxing completely by thinking about the tension leaving each muscle (start at your foot and move up your leg).

5. Still lost? Try this. If you are a very tight person, static stretching that involves holding a stretch for a long period of time may be a good idea. Some ideas of what can be found here. If you are the type who could do all the obnoxious moves in your very first yoga class (i.e. naturally flexible), then foam rolling to target just the tight muscles may be the way to go. Proaxis Therapy has a great foam rolling handout that walks you through the process. For specific tight knots and trigger points tennis balls, lacrosse balls and baseballs can also be used instead of a foam roll. Stay away from bones or anything that feels like a nerve (burning, stabbing, shooting pain).