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Posted June 20, 2023 by Karen Carson PT
We all have different reasons for running in the Akron Marathon series, whether it is to finish our first marathon, get a PR, lose weight or progress our love of running. We prepare with the “pounding” of miles, repeats, sprinting and rest/recovery. As a Summa Health physical therapist, one of the training components for running that is often missed or not understood by an athlete is dynamic stretching. This component, with consistent use, can reduce injury and improve performance in an athlete. When treating runners of all levels for repetitive injuries, I have found that muscle weakness/imbalance and a lack of joint mobility have either a direct effect on the injury or are major contributing factors to the repetitive injury.
So what is dynamic stretching and why is it important? Dynamic stretching is a movement-based, controlled use of muscle force and body momentum that simulates athletic activity that will take the body through the available FUNCTIONAL range of motion. Compared to “static” stretching, which is a stretch that is held just beyond a normal ROM for an allotted amount of time such as a seated hamstring stretch or figure four piriformis stretch, dynamic stretching utilizes those specific movements of the entire kinetic chain to stretch and improve joint mechanics. Dynamic stretches can include just the lower body, from the foot to the hips, in a stretch or the entire body that incorporates the arms and core. They take the joints through the full available range of motion to improve joint mechanics and control. I implement dynamic stretching into my athletes’ recovery because of the improvement of joint mobility. The motions simulate the activity we complete and need while running.
By warming up the muscles and with consistent use, dynamic stretching will improve joint mechanics, elevate heart rate and activate muscles in the running chain that will help improve coordination between upper and lower body which is important in athletes. In turn, we can ultimately reduce injury and optimize performance.
Dynamic stretching is important to implement in warmups, pre-racing and speed work, so I will focus on a few dynamic stretches that target muscles we utilize in running to get you started. These can be implemented immediately and, with continued use, can begin to develop form and control with running. I will increase in difficulty and muscle recruitment in my examples.
For completing dynamic stretching activities, you just need to utilize a little space, such as a track or side walk.
Butt kickers: Great to activate quad, hip flexors and hamstrings. Start by raising one heel to your buttock. Alternate to the other while starting at a walking pace, then increase to a running stride. Complete 10-15 reps on each side to start.
High knees: Target gluts stretching, hip flexors and hamstrings to prepare the runner for speed and improving hip flexion during running activity. Great for sprints. Start with feet hip distance apart and chest forward. Raise one knee high up towards chest, while the other leg is on the ball of the foot. Complete by alternating legs and pattern. Start walking and progress with speed of cadence of the activity, not lengthening of the stride.
A-skips: Target the gluts and gastrocnemius to improve form of running and control, incorporates arms to stretch shoulders and improve single leg balance. Start with a skipping motion; however, this is an exaggerated higher than normal skip in which you start by reaching arms in an alternating pattern to the sky. Progress with height of skip and reach of arm. Complete 10-15 reps each side.
Remember, these dynamic stretches are only the tip of the iceberg. If you have any concerns, contact the Summa Health Outpatient Physical Therapy team at 234.312.2358 or visit summahealth.org/therapy. We can evaluate and treat your runner’s injury and implement and individualized recovery plan to get you back running. We have ten convenient outpatient physical therapy sites to accommodate you.
Good luck and happy running!
Karen Carson PT
Senior Physical Therapist MS
Exercise Physiologist MA