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Why Stretching After Running Is Important For Preventing Injury

You round the final turn, glance at your watch and realize you just set a new personal record. You walk into your apartment, grab a bottle of water and jump into the shower.

Stop!

Something is missing here — you forgot to stretch!

While the kind of stretching you should do after a run differ no matter your philosophy, stretching after a run is a must for several key reasons.

Muscle Tightness

Stretching after you finish working out is not only an excellent way to increase flexibility, but it also decreases muscle tightness.  Muscle tightness or soreness comes from tiny ruptures in your muscles which occur during the contracting and shortening of your muscles when lifting weights or doing strenuous exercise such as running.

Muscle tightness is felt between 24 to 72 hours after you’ve finished working out. A good post-workout stretch routine can reduce the soreness and alleviate the feeling altogether.

Skipping out on stretching can leave you feeling sore and tight the next time you go running.

Lactic Acid Build Up

Lactic acid, the bane of runner’s existence. As a runner, you don’t want an onslaught of lactic acid to build up in your legs. It results in an uncomfortable burning or tingling sensation in your muscles which is not fun at all.

Stephen M. Roth, a professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Maryland, explains that lactic acid is simply a result of a shortage of oxygen entering the body.

While running your body cannot receive enough oxygen to produce energy to feed your muscles, so your body creates its own energy called lactate which over time turns into lactic acid.

There is no way to prevent this as your body naturally produces lactic acid when performing at high levels but it’s imperative that you don’t allow the acid to build up in your muscles.

“With proper stretching, it can actually be flushed out of the body relatively quickly,” says Jacque Crockford, CSCS, an ACE fitness exercise physiologist and education specialist.

Using a foam roller can eliminate the lactic acid buildup.

Decreased Performance

If your muscles are sore or tight and you have a build of lactic acid, your body won’t be able to perform at the level that you’re used to.

By skipping out on stretching you’re missing the opportunity to increase muscle tone as well as speed up your improvement.

Poor Circulation and Muscle Degeneration

When running your muscles are constantly tearing, contracting and stretching to produce new tissue and muscle. For many runners, you work a full 8 hour day where you spend long periods of time sitting in one position.

Your body isn’t able to effectively keep the blood circulating to the recovering muscles, which can cause the nerves in your glutes to shut down. This is the beginning process of muscle degeneration and can lead to muscle cramps, numbness or tingling in your arms, legs and back.

When the rest of your muscles aren’t working, other parts of your body has to compensate for the breakdown.

By skipping out on your post-run stretch, you aren’t helping your muscles recover. This can cause uncomfortable pain, poor circulation, and even muscle degeneration.

Risk of Injury

Hip flexors, hamstrings, quads, and shins are some of the first areas to cause runners trouble. This is known to lead to knee problems.

For example, a runner with tight quadriceps can develop Patella Tendonitis due to the lack of stretching. This comes as a result of the tight muscle pulling on the tendon attachment at the patella. This results in increased tension, inflammation, and pain.

Chances of getting an injury like a pulled hamstring or Patella Tendonitis can be severely decreased by performing a few stretches after your workout. Spend a few extra minutes on loosening up your muscles when the weather is cold outside.

Here’s a list of key muscles to stretch after running:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • IT Band
  • Calves
  • Piriformis
  • Psoas
  • Glutes
  • Hip flexors/groin

By stretching for just a few minutes after every run can save you a lifetime worth of problems. Doesn’t it make sense to save yourself a world of pain and take the time to stretch?