Traditionally we've been led to believe that stretching is a requirement before any athletic activity. But this may not be true for elite runners. (See Stretching Do's and Don'ts with Washington Sprinters.)
To use the elasticity of their muscles, runners—both sprinters and long distance marathoners—need to avoid static stretches before a race, and instead perform dynamic warm-ups. This actually enhances the ability of the legs to increase the storage and return of elastic energy within the muscles.
Nevertheless, stretching should still be an important part of a runner's program. Muscles are less susceptible to injury when they have been stretched. However, the time to target areas where the level of stiffness is higher than optimal is after activity.
Here is a full routine, which takes between five and eight minutes and incorporates both techniques.
- Keep hip at 90-degree angle
- Straighten the leg (with ankle dorsiflexion) for five seconds
- Lower and relax for five seconds
- In a stretched position of the hip, push the foot into the ball for five seconds
- Contract the quad
- Hold and relax the muscle for five seconds
IT Band/Lateral Hip
- Keep the hip internally rotated and positioned under the body
- Relax into stretch for five seconds
- Raise forearms (push against floor with bottom leg) for five seconds
Self-Massage or Foam Rolling
Roll over the entire length of the relaxed muscle, being cautious over sensitive areas and boney projections. Start with 10 to 15 rolls and apply pressure based on your individual tolerance (uncomfortable, but not painful). Progress to 25 to 30 rolls over time.
- Roll from one to two inches above the heel to the back of the knee
- Roll from behind the knee to just before the gluteal folds
- Rotate the toes in and out to massage all three hamstring tendons
- Roll from just above the kneecap to the lower hip flexor, three to four inches below the hip bones
IT Band/Lateral Hip
- Roll from the hip (most superficial lateral hip bone) to the knee
- Apply less pressure early to this area due to IT Band sensitivity
 Herda, TJ, et al. (2011). "Effects of two modes of static stretching on muscle strength and stiffness." Med Sci Sport Ex 43(9): 1777-1784.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock