Runners, Stretch After, Not Before, Exercise

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Recent studies have shown that stretching before exercising does nothing to improve performance and may actually be injurious. I agree. As a chiropractor and yoga instructor, I have found that stretching muscles that have not warmed up sufficiently can cause micro-tears, inflammation, and ultimately pain and dysfunction.

However, stretching immediately after exercising, is, in my experience, the single best way to prevent injury and prolong your level of activity well past middle age.

Musculo-skeletal health is based in large part on good joint alignment and good muscle balance. Degenerative conditions and repetitive injuries over the years happen not because of what we do, but how badly we do what we do.

When a muscle is being used, it contracts and shortens. Take your biceps for example--the muscle in the front of your upper arm. At one end, the muscle inserts on the bone of your forearm just below the elbow; the other end attaches to the top of your arm bone at the shoulder. The biceps' job is to bend your elbow.When it contracts, it actually pulls on the bone of the forearm lifting it up. When the biceps relaxes, your elbow straightens.

What happens when you continuously call upon a muscle to contract, as in lifting weights, or running long distances, it fails to lengthen completely. Then each time you use it, you start from an ever-shortened position. The degree of shortening is small, but over time it adds up. A hard, bulgingmuscle is not a flexible, healthy muscle. Eventually, this shortened muscle will change the normal range of joint motion which, over time, means trouble.

A chronically shortened achilles displaces the heel bone backward and upward causing, or at least contributing to, painful heel spurs and plantar fascitis. Chronically shortened calves, hamstrings, and/or quadriceps can misalign the knee joint and have led to the rash of surgeries so common to runners.

Immediately (and I mean before sitting down or getting in the car) after every run, every hike, every climb, stretch out the muscles you've just used. There are many books out there showing specific stretches for specific muscles. Or you can contact me at http://www.painless Start with the achilles and move upward. Stretch slowly, holding it for 10 to 15 seconds. Don't bounce. A very tight muscle may hurt when you stretch it. Back off a little, take a breath, relax and stretch some more. Stretch achilles, calves, hamstrings, quadreceps, inner thighs, outer thighs,hip flexors and gluteals. If you don't know where they are on your body, or how to safely stretch them, contact me.

Stretching promotes flexibility which is equal in importance to strength, speed and endurance for runners. Correct running posture is also vitally important. Picture Michael Johnson, Olympic Gold Medal sprinter. As he runs, his body is aligned perfectly over his feet. His footfall is perfect--heel, midfoot, toe-off. He crosses the finish line with almost no stress to his muscles and joints.

Athletes I've worked with, who take stretching seriously age gracefully, and don't plan to cut down on their activity level any time soon. When they do, it will be because thay want to, not because they have to.

About the Author:

(c)2003 Pamela Adams D.C. Pamela Adams D.C., holistic health coach, and ergonomics expert, is the author of "Dr. Adams' Painless Guide to Computing; How to Use Your Computer Without Hurting Yourself." For information, visit

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