Cooling Down and Stretching

Cooling Down It’s important to go through a warm down routine after you have completed a training run so that you don’t just come to an abrupt stop.  Your body should reduce its movements gradually, allowing a slow decrease in body temperature, in heart rate and in your breathing rate.  If you stop abruptly without a warm-down, especially as a beginner, you may find that you experience feelings of light-headedness as a result of your heart rate and therefore your blood pressure decreasing too quickly.  Think of the cool down as doing exactly the opposite of the warm up, it is providing a bridge between a period of high-intensity activity and rest, it also aids recovery.  Performing a good cool down may well be the last thing that you feel like doing after having finished your training run, but your body will thank you for it.

Carrying out a slow jog for 3 to 5 minutes after you have completed your run will also help to condition your body to run when tired, this is handy for races and also for increasing your distances as you will be doing some runs on continuous days. Once you’ve completed the slow jog I would recommend a similar amount of time walking, you should start briskly and then slow your pace down to an easier rhythm.  Once you’ve completed these two important exercises you’re ready to stretch.

Stretching Many blogs, articles and training books that you will read will suggest stretching as part of your warm-up routine.  This isn’t something that I, personally, would advise.  Stretching should take place when your muscles are already warm, not when they’re cold as they would be during your warm-up routine.  Stretches help to prevent injury and also to improve your body’s flexibility.  As you run the muscles in your leg shorten and stretching helps to lengthen them out again.  Getting into the habit of performing a range of stretches on your legs, your back, neck and shoulders will also help to speed recovery and increase blood-flow to the parts of your body that have been working so hard during your training. 

Key Techniques to Remember when Stretching – Stretching should always be a gentle movement, you don’t want to force yourself into a position that’s uncomfortable and could cause an injury. –  You should try to hold your stretches for a minimum of 20 seconds and 30 seconds is ideal. –  Listen to your body, if it hurts then you’re stretching too far. –  If you have any pre-existing injuries speak to your doctor, you don’t want to hurt yourself!

Now, on to the stretches themselves:

Quadriceps Stretch Take hold of your right foot behind you with your right hand and bend your knee as you pull your foot towards your bottom.  Make sure that you keep your knees together; you shouldn’t be twisting your knee at all.  You should feel the stretch along the front of your thigh, your quadriceps muscle.  If you’re having problems balancing you can place your hand on a wall to keep you from rocking.  Repeat the stretch on the left leg.

Calf Stretch Stand opposite a wall, approximately an arm’s length away and place your left foot one stride’s length behind your right.  Slowly bend your leading leg (in this case your right) forward making sure to keep your back (left) heel flat on the floor and your back knee straight.  Keep both feet facing forward and you should feel the stretch in the calf of your back leg.    Repeat the stretch using the other leg.

Hamstring Stretch Lift your right heel onto a bench, ledge or other surface (the surface should be slightly lower than hip level).  Flex your right foot by pointing your toes up to the sky and bend forward at the hips towards the flexed foot.  Repeat the stretch on your left leg.

Groin Stretch Take a seat on the floor with the soles of your feet touching each other and gently push your knees towards the floor.  Keep your back straight and your core strong.  It’s important not to over-extend on this stretch and push too hard, you don’t want to strain your groin!  Push gently and breathe through the stretch but stop before you feel any pain.

Back Stretch Lie on your back, with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent, keeping your body straight.  Try to push your lower back down in to the floor, in order to do this you will need to tighten your abdominal muscles.  Hold this pose for a count of 10 and then return to the starting position and repeat 5 times.

Neck Stretch To perform a chin to chest stretch, stand up straight, feet slightly apart and bend your head forward very slowly until your chin touches your chest.  Hold this stretch for a count of 10 and repeat 3 times.  Then you can move on to the neck extension stretch.  Stay in the same position and move your head back to look up at the ceiling, or as far as is comfortable for you, hold this stretch for the same amount of time.   Next turn your head from side to side, turn your head to the right until you feel your neck muscles tighten, hold for 10 seconds and repeat the stretch on the other side.  This stretch should also be repeated 3 times on each side.

Before we move forward, I’d just like to have a word about treadmills.  Running on a treadmill is often a convenient way to get your training run in, especially if the weather is inclement.  However you will find that running outside, in conditions, is very different to pounding the treadmill.  For one thing, when you’re running outside the ground doesn’t generally move!  Running outside is more difficult as you have to keep pushing your body forward, whereas in the gym, the treadmill is doing some of the work.