Updated: Aug 15, 2020
So you’ve mastered your warmup! You’ve just rocked out a super efficient 10K, kicked off your sneaks, and you’re on your way to hide in a steaming hot bubble bath for 30 more minutes of self care. It’s time to sooth those muscles you just worked so hard. Right? RIGHT?
WRONG! (But so close!) .
. Although a hot bath is beneficial for increasing blood circulation which helps with the recovery of sore muscles, bathing immediately after an intense workout can hinder the process of muscle relaxation causing inflammation leading to stiff and sore muscles. Stiff and sore muscles are tomorrows excuse not to workout which isn’t an acceptable solution for you or for anyone.
To make sure you don’t wake up in the morning feeling like you got hit by a bus (running IS supposed to make you feel stronger after all), give it 2.5 to 5 more minutes of your time. This small chunk of your workout (although in the moment can feel like another hour of hard labor) needs to be spent focused on relaxation and getting your body to cool down while your heart returns to normalcy.
The most obvious reason we stretch is to promote flexibility. It is important to save static stretching for the end of our workouts when our muscles are the warmest. It’s at this point we are physically more pliable which allows us to work on our range of motion in a safe and effective manner. During your run, the same muscles are being pounded on over and over again. By the time you have finished, those muscles have shortened immensely contributing to the tightness and soreness you feel. If they are not taken care of properly, all of the muscles start to pull on your joints and you will feel that tightness and pain in the days to follow. Running especially puts a lot of pressure on our low backs. What’s connected to our low backs? Hamstrings, hip flexors and muscles that join to the pelvis. If these are stretched and taken care of, we can create a safety net which not only improves our mobility, but prevents lower back pain as well.
A fascinating reason we also need to stretch is because when you are running at a hard intensity, there isn’t typically enough oxygen to get around to all of your working muscles. To compensate for this, your body produces lactic acid, a substance that delivers energy to your muscles without using oxygen. This is great for when we are exercising however, it is important that we take the time to release it when we are finished with it. Not only does having too much lactic acid in your system cause tightness and soreness, it can also be detrimental to your health. When you take the time to stretch and breathe, you are actually bringing oxygen back to the muscles, thus getting rid of the extra substance they may be lingering in your system.
Calm your heart. When you take a few minutes to breath your are allowing your heart-rate to slow down. When this happens, blood flow is returning to your muscles at a more regulated pace, bringing even more oxygen and nutrients to feed and restore the muscles. Ever heard of the runners high? When your body is cooling down (aka when you are stretching) endorphins are being released and you typically feel calm or at peace and that all is good. And in our opinion, that is what running is all about.
Our body’s were made to move. We need to stop looking at stretching like it’s a separate entity to our workout. Simply taking a minimum of 10 to 30 seconds to stretch each major muscle group is all it takes to undo the amount of stress we have put our muscles through. And if all you can think about when you get back from your run is how to seize the bubble bath without making it obvious you are home – we suggest finding a safe, secluded spot outside to focus on restoring those muscles before hibernating in the tub (with water, beer or wine in hand!)
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