When I was competing I spent a lot of time warming up properly before my training runs and cooling down and stretching afterwards. My father used to say to me, "sit down and rest yourself".
Stretching is a very important aspect of any training programme, but it's not something most runners do willingly.
Runners can manage to squeeze in one or two hours of running a day but are never quite able to find the additional 10 or 15 minutes for adequate stretching. All your runs should start with a warm-up and end with a cool-down.
Before you run it is a good idea to ease your body slowly into it by walking briskly for a few minutes. It's not a good idea to stretch cold muscles, so don't start with stretching. You can do a few gentle exercises to get your body loose and relaxed without straining cold muscles and joints.
A good warm-up ensures that your muscles are well-supplied with oxygen. It also raises your muscle temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency. By slowly raising your heart rate, the warm-up helps to minimise stress on your heart when you start your run. Often people wonder why they don't feel good for the first 15 to 20 minutes of their run and the reason for this is that they have started off too fast.
Jog slowly and gradually to build up your speed. If you start your run off too fast this could lead to a muscle strain or injury. You should be breathing very easily. Slow down if you feel yourself getting out of breath.
The cool-down portion of your run is an important time to stretch your muscles. Cooling down helps to reduce the temperature of your muscles and may help to reduce stiffness and soreness.
Finish off your run with an easy five-minute jog and this helps to gradually return your heart rate to normal. Your muscles are at their warmest during this time, which means you can get a much deeper stretch.
I believe everyone that runs should invest in a foam roller. It helps smooth and lengthen your muscles and breaks up adhesions and scar tissue. It also helps your muscles relax and improves blood circulation. It helps the muscles to return to the proper length and recover even faster. Foam rolling can be painful, but you only need to use it for 5 to 10 minutes to reap the benefits.
Stretch your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, groin area and lower back. Never bounce while stretching, hold the stretch for about 30 seconds and perform each stretch three times. Stretch the muscle to the point at which tightness is felt and at no time should a stretch cause discomfort or pain. If possible, it is best that you have a warm shower or bath straight after your run, have some chocolate milk, and then do your stretching. The increased muscle flexibility after a period of stretching lasts up to three hours.
Another way to help recovery is to do leg drains by lying on your back with your legs extended vertically and feet propped against a wall for three to four minutes. This drains the blood from your legs so fresh clean blood can be pumped into them when you stand up, which promotes recovery.
If you are rushing around and haven't time to stretch straight after your run, there is no harm in doing it a couple of hours later. Start off by using the foam roller which will increase circulation and then do your stretching when you are more relaxed.
Treat your legs well when you are not running to gain more enjoyment from your training, increase performance and speed up recovery time. The more preparation we put into something the better the results.