I’m going to make a bet with you. I wager that if you’re reading this article, there’s a high likelihood you don’t warm up before going trail running.
You’re also probably lousy at stretching – something that we all tell ourselves we must do more of, but generally speaking don’t. Or at least, don’t do it right!
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that historically I’ve been bad at stretching. It’s just not fun. And sometimes hurts way more than running a hundred miles. In fact, I once injured my hamstring whilst stretching in my house, and did it so badly I had to have physio to repair the damage.
In those lethal few seconds, I learnt an important lesson: don’t stretch before you’ve warmed your muscles up.
So, what should we be doing?
- Start slowly
The first bit of advice, is to actually start running, before you do any warm up stretches. You’re more likely to get injured doing a cold static stretch than actually running. So start off slowly and allow your body to limber up.
Therefore, your ‘warm up’ is in fact the first 10 to 15 minutes of your trail run. It’s during this time you’ll increase your heart rate which in turn increases your blood circulation. Only then should you stop and do some gentle stretches.
- To stretch or not to stretch, that is the question
How many times have you seen people do these half-hearted stretches? They flick their shoe to their bum, hold on to it for a few seconds to supposedly stretch their quad muscle, then swap the leg. The cold truth is they’re doing absolutely nothing good.
The moral of the story could be it’s better not to stretch badly than to not stretch at all.
In fact, research has been done that says there is no real benefit whatsoever to stretching before you run. Other experts say it’s better to stretch after a run, when your body’s sufficiently warmed up.
What you do ultimately decides upon how your body is feeling.
- Listen to your body
There are in fact seven types of stretch, but the two most common are static and dynamic. The static ones normally involve you learning against a tree (or a friend) for balance. The dynamic ones are about to lengthen the muscle.
I do a mixture of static and dynamic.
The key areas I tend to focus on are the hamstring, the quad muscle, the calf muscle as these are the ones that I’m concerned with. I dedicate a minimum of 30 seconds to each muscle group – which means that I can easily spend 5 minutes or so stretching.
If I have more time, I also try to stretch my upper torso, including my arms and shoulders.