“Wow, that can’t be good,” I said to my son as we finished the ab workout he designed.
“What’s not good?” he asked.
“My quads are really tight. I can feel them strain against my knees sitting just here.” I was sitting back on my ankles. My legs folded underneath me, knees on the floor.
Tight muscles are not a runner’s friend. Sure, sometimes they loosen up as your body gets warm during that first mile or so, but you risk tearing them if they don’t get warm enough. Tight muscles also cause problems up and down the kinetic chain because they restrict the mobility of all muscles and tendons connected with them. It also requires opposing muscles to work harder.
Stretching or not stretching is not the issue here. The question is when to stretch. Many research studies show that stretching can reduce your chances of injury. It also assists in maintaining a good stride. That said never ever stretch cold muscles. You will tear them. If you need to stretch before you run, do a 10-15 minute warm-up on a bike or jump roping or something that does not require big movements.
Using a foam roller or The Stick, in my opinion, is the best way to warm up before a run. You can get them at most running stores, and I’m sure Amazon has them. You use it by placing it on the floor, lying on the tight muscle on top of the roller, and rolling it down the length of the muscle. Try to put as much of your body weight on the roller as you can tolerate. If there are knots in the muscle, it will be painful, and it can leave small bruises if you are aggressive with it. I stop and rest on the knot for 30 seconds or until I feel it release. The Stick is another massage tool (and it’s more portable than a foam roller). It is approximately two feet long, and one inch in diameter. It has beads along its center with handles on both ends. You can also find these at running stores. Many chiropractors use them.
I roll my quads, hamstrings, illiotibial band and calves twenty five times each with the Stick before my runs. By doing this, they are warm and knots are worked out of them. Blood is flowing nicely to them, so they have plenty of oxygen, and they are ready to go.
I have worked through ITB syndrome, ankle sprains, shin splints, and trigger point issues in my calves with the foam roller and stick. I love them, and they go to all my races.
Stretch after you run. I also use a foam roller after my run and again before bed, if I notice any knots or tight spots in any muscles. I recommend using a static stretch (no bouncing) on your groin, quads, calves, and hamstrings. Hold each stretch for 25-30 seconds. Holding it longer does not help. Rotate through each stretch two or three times. Do not stretch to the point of pain only until you can feel the tightness in the area.
Hopefully, I can get my quads to loosen up before the marathon on Saturday (Salt Lake City Marathon) and surely before Salt Flats 100 six days later. I will be rolling around on my foam roller each night and stretching at my desk and between court hearings until go time.