Running a Marathon? – the importance of stretching during training

The London marathon has just pasted and thousands of running enthusiasts are gleefully celebrating the highlight of their running year. With their training program complete in previous weeks and the longer practice runs done, last week runners were busy focusing their minds on mental preparation. Some were seasoned runners and have made it through training in good condition, while others had to fight off injury or rely on prayer to get through. Stretching is a key component to marathon training and we’re going to discuss just how valuable it’s contribution is.

 

How does stretching prepare a runner for marathon?

Preparing for a marathon requires an intense amount of training as a runners body builds the correct level of strength, fitness and stamina to complete over 26 miles in distance. Muscles go through different challenges as training progresses and intensifies. Self-stretching muscles after each session and on rest days can aid muscles in recovering from the micro traumas of growth. Stretching can also importantly play a role in increasing the bio-mechanical range of motion in the hips, ankles, knees and spine to improve running stride so that the body’s natural spring system fires most of the movement – conserving energy and easing the impact on joints.

Should I stretch before or after running?

Usually stretching is advised for post running recovery. There is a danger that by stretching before your run that you can take some of the spring out of the muscle and weaken the muscles ability to recruit on full power. However, less seasoned runners may find it necessary to partially stretch before or during a run to free up habitual stiffness and to avoid injury.

The 4 rules of stretching for runners

Stretching isn’t something that you can achieve by forcing it to happen. Stretching only works effectively when muscles feel safe, without too much force being applied. They tend to resist letting go when forced and this action can even result in a stiffer muscle. The 4 principles to be mindful of in getting the perfect stretch are: Gravity: bring your range of motion to the point of stretch and then allow your body weight to lever a pulling effect on the muscle. Relax: If levering properly you should be able to relax the muscles in question and feel them gently stretching. Breathe: Deep breathing can drag the connective tissue to enhance the feeling of freedom surrounding the intended muscle. Tip, if you find your breathing restricted it can be an indicator that too much force is being applied. Time: measure the length of stretch in effectively deep relieving breaths rather than seconds.

Marathon preparation: How does massage stretch muscles?

Many people are too tight to stretch effectively. Bands of muscle fibre tension, connective tissue twists and adhesive knots prevent even the most dedicated from enjoying a full muscle stretch. Massage can hugely benefit marathon trainers by physically challenging muscles to elongate. What’s even better is that massage improves the muscle’s neurological connection with the brain through trigger pointing techniques. Massage performed for bio-mechanical gain can teach new behavioural responses from muscle fibres and enhance supportive joint balances to aid running performance.

Why do some seasoned runners barely stretch?

You’ll often meet experienced runners who seem to just turn up and run effective times regardless of following a training, muscle management or dietary plan. Why is it that they don’t seem to have to follow the text book approach? The answer is usually that they have good technique. Some people run with a natural stride or gait that accelerates their speed using the spring mechanism of the body. Running this way consumes less energy, saves wear and tear on the joints and actually stretches the main muscle groups through the rhythm of movement. Running without technique can result in compacting pressure on the joints of the knees, hips, ankles, lower back and neck - draining the energy from you and possibly needing you to be repaired on the injury treatment table.  

When is stretching not enough to prepare muscles for a marathon?

Adopting stretching as a muscle recovery and enhancement strategy is essential for the majority of marathon runners. However, there are times, especially with new and developing runners that stretching alone is not effective. Massage can sometimes be needed to create the space needed for the runner to effectively get a grip on stretching a muscle or band of muscles. If posture has created unnatural holding patterns and twists in the body, then massage may be required to physically manipulate movement into the soft tissue fibres to enable the joint to move and stretch properly. Infrequent runners or people who have poor running technique and postural holding patterns may need a regular massage session to reset the muscles to enable effective self-stretching.

If you’ve run the London marathon and are looking for post marathon recovery or are training for a new event and are interested to find out how massage can help, then please give us a call on 020 8166 8958 and we can discuss how we can help you.


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