April 02, 2023 3 min read
Stretching should be a crucial component to any marathon training and we’re going to explore just how valuable it’s contribution is.
Preparing for a marathon requires an intense amount of training as a runners body adjusts and develops the correct level of strength, fitness and stamina to complete the 26.2 miles in distance. Your muscles go through various 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.
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 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.
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.
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. 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.
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 your 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.
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