We are born with the ability of flexibility which most of us lose.
By the time you are an adult, our muscles lose 15% of its moisture. This lose of moisture means becoming less supple and more prone to injury. Your muscle fibres have begun to adhere to each other, developing cellular cross-links that prevent parallel fibres from moving independently. Our elastic fibres get bound together turning our flexible muscles into something thats frighteningly similar to animal leather. We all know that leather is not flexible.
We also know we should warm down after a run. But how do we do that? Is stretching good for us and how does it work? Experts agree that they do not fully understand how stretching works. It is believed that it might have something to do with training the nervous system to tolerate the stretch without triggering a pain reaction. So by relaxing the nervous system, you can get a greater range of flexibility. In other words this is called the Stretch Reflex which overtime will adapt to its own method.
For the the higher percentage of the day we sit down with our arms forward, either typing, driving, or whatever the activity is. This puts our nervous and muscular system have a limited range of motion. Sitting for too long results in the shortening of our pec muscles which has a direct result in how we run. The arms will start to swing across your body, each step sending your momentum off to the side instead of forward, with the end result making your body twist as it doesn't have the ability to run free and efficient. Secondly, shortened hip flexors means weakened glutes and will result in your femur (leg bone) rotating inwards. This is a direct link to your knee collapsing inwards overtime you land. The result of this is the dreaded Runners Knee!!!
The examples above is just two simple ways in which our everyday norm effects how we run.
In short, our muscles and nervous system adapts to the way they are most commonly used.
If you look at your dog or cat after they sit down or sleep, they get up and take a big stretch. Nearly every animal does this. However, humans have neglected this small part of health. We wake up, check social media apps, shovel our breakfast (in a seated position), jump in the car or bus…still seated…work until you need to go home….still seated…and then expect our bodies to go exercise after it has been in a hunched up position.
We focus too much on the contraction of a muscle and very little of the lengthening of a muscle.
Let me paint a picture that is all too familiar to the majority of people. You finish a run, take your car key out and get a drink. You might swing your arms around and touch your toes. Thats the extent of your warm down. You then jump back in the car and sit back down. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that temptation. Especially in the Irish weather. Now that it’s coming into our “summer”, you have no excuse.
If you are stuck for time, the body will benefit more from running 10 minutes less, and spend those 10 minutes stretching the body and warming down.
There are two ways in which we can warm down effectively. Depending on the activity you can do a Dynamic Warm Down (Speed/Interval Runs) or Easy Run Warm Down
1. Easy Run/Long Run
Reduce the speed of which you were running and run very easy for a few minutes. Run slower then you think is possible!!
After this then follow the instructions in the video.
2. Dynamic Warm Down
A dynamic warm down is followed after a speed/interval/tempo run. When you do a these types of runs, you get a bigger range of motion (ROM) in each joint, meaning a higher contraction of the muscle fibres. When you wog (walk-jog) after a session you activate a smaller percentage of these muscle fibres.
What do you do? If you are on a running track or football pitch, jog the straights and small bound the widths/bends. This means you activate most of the muscle fibres in comparison to if you were to just shuffle along for X amount of time. You want to exaggerate your stride pattern but not necessarily sprinting. Do this for roughly 4 laps or a mile. Following this, you should stretch like shown in the attached video.