A couple of weeks ago two members of our team got together for a colorful 5 km fun run around Wembley stadium. For our team it was a fun way to work out a little before the summer. The run was accompanied with music and color powder thrown all over by a group of enthusiastic onlookers. This created a cheerful atmosphere, in order to, hopefully, make the runners run faster.
As many people are partaking in fun runs this summer we put together a few tips on staying fit, healthy and well stretched to reduce the risk of injury, especially if it is your first of many.
Before the run:
The warm up: okay it’s not a marathon but still. The shorter the run, the more people will start to run fast (too fast) and the more they’ll hurt themselves. So always start with a slow rhythm the first 5 min of your run. You can also warm up your ankles and knees: start with gentle ankle rotations, point/flex your feet. For the knees brings your legs together and with your hands on your knees rotate your knees together one way, then the other.To extend the warm up you can do some jumps and jumping jacks.
Now let’s talk about stretches: No passive stretches should be done before or during a training session!
A passive stretch is one where you assume a position and hold it with some other part of your body, or with the assistance of a partner or some other apparatus. For example, bringing your leg up high and then holding it there with your hand. The splits is an example of a passive stretch (in this case, the floor is the “apparatus” that you use to maintain your extended position).
This type of stretch has been shown to weaken the muscles which you don’t want to do before or during an exercise (1)(2).It is also not advisable to do a lot of passive stretches after a high intensity training session.
If you feel the need to stretch before or during your run, active stretches are recommended. An active stretch is one where you assume a position and then hold it there with no assistance other than using the strength of your agonist muscles. For example, bringing your leg up high with a flexed foot and then holding it there without anything (other than your leg muscles themselves) to keep the leg in that extended position. The tension of the agonists (quadriceps in this case) in an active stretch helps to relax the muscles being stretched (the antagonists, hamstrings and calf in this case) by reciprocal inhibition. Active stretching increases active flexibility and strengthens the agonist muscles. Active stretches are usually quite difficult to hold and maintain for more than 10 seconds and rarely need to be held any longer than 15 seconds.
The Hamstring and calf stretch: here holding the leg with the hands makes it a passive stretch. The same exercise without using the hands would be a active stretch.
During the run:
As we said just above, if you feel the need to stretch go for an active stretch. Which means instead of holding the stretch with your hand or with the floor, you’ll only use the strength of your muscles.
After the run:
Drink a lot of water! Drink more than generally needed especially to handle the London heat and humidity! Remember that with in your normal daily life you should drink 1 litre per 25kg/55lb of weight. So depending on your weight you should have at least 2 litres a day. Most people would need around 2,5/3 litres a day and with exercise this will easily go up to 4 litres.
Stretches are important after any exercise to prevent muscle soreness and long-term stiffness.
There is no need to spend 30 min stretching, but focus on the muscles you’ve used with short/specific stretches. These include the hamstrings, calf and quadriceps muscles and don’t forget the illio-tibial band (ITB).
If you run at a slow pace, you can do some passive stretches, always in a gentle way and very important : always be careful of your back posture! Overstretching can pull on your lower back so do not force yourself with motto’s like “Yes! I can reach my toes with my fingers!!” Let’s take the classic hamstrings and calf stretch standing up: The back leg is slightly bent, the front leg is straight with your foot forward, heels on the floor and toes up. The most important here is to keep your pelvis straight and not rotated to the side, the front leg straight AND your back straight! The trunk flexion comes from the hips.The objective is to stretch the posterior muscular chain of your leg, not your back, so it shouldn’t pull on your lower spine. This is something you should always keep in mind, whichever stretch you are doing.
The same principle applies for the quadriceps muscle. The pelvis and back should be straight.
A very common problem with running and cycling is the ITB and it is a very difficult area to stretch. We recommended rolling up and down on a foam roller to relax the ITB (roll on the lateral aspect of the thigh, all the way from the hip to the knee).
But my favorite “all in one” stretch is the following one and you don’t need any accessory to do it but it is more efficient with an elastic ‘thera’ band or a towel to grab your leg. Lie on your back, start with one leg bent and one leg straight up to the sealing. Wrap the band around your foot, or hold your leg above or below your knee, never hold on to the knee joint. If you want to do it actively just use your strength to bring your foot as close to your face as possible keeping your leg straight, pelvis sticking to the floor, shoulders and neck relaxed.
The next step is to straighten the lower leg on the floor. It should create more tension in the back of your leg. If you flex your foot you will stretch your calf as well.
The third step is to bring the upper leg to the side crossing the mid-line in order to stretch the lateral aspect of your leg. Keep the leg straight, the foot as high as possible and try to bring your leg to the floor. You should feel a stretch in the lateral aspect of the knee, thigh and hip.This allows you to stretch your the back of your leg (gluteus maximus, hamstring and calf) and the side (ITB and gluteus medius muscle).
Remember if you run at a fast pace keep in mind that the active stretches are better to respect the integrity of the muscles than the passive ones. We hope you have a fantastic summer and many safe runs!
(1) Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human plantar flexors – J. R. Fowles, D. G. Sale, J. D. MacDougall, Journal of Applied Physiology Published 1 September 2000 Vol. 89 no. 3, 1179-1188 DOI:
(2) Dynamic vs static-stretching warm up: The effect on power and agility performance – Danny J.Mc Millian, Josef H.Moore, Brian S.Hatler, Dean C.Taylor, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2006, 20(3), 492–499
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