Stretch & Recovery

For more information on stretching and recovery, take a look at the latest #AboutTrail video here.

Stretching and recovery go hand in hand, and if incorporated into your training programme, will certainly increase your chances of an injury-free and positive trail journey. How often have you thought to yourself, pre or post an event, that you should really make the time for a little bit of stretching? And how often have you actually followed through?

Stretching is one of those things that seems to fall by the way- side more often than not – sometimes because of lack of time, mostly because of laziness. The purpose of this article is to reinstate the importance of it, and highlight the benefits you’ll gain from a little bit of stretching.

What happens when you run, and why is stretching so important? “When your body has been pushed hard, the water and energy stores are depleted and if you have pushed really hard, there may be some stiffness in certain muscles, known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), caused by a small amount of muscle damage,” says Bryony Taberlet, physiotherapist, specialising in lynotherapy and based in Cape Town.

“Stretching helps to make sure that your joints and muscles stay lubricated and supple by promoting blood supply and movement. It is important to make sure that all of your joints can be moved through their full range of movement, so that no protective or compensatory patterns can develop that will cause problems later on.”

Before and After

Before you run, a dynamic stretch to activate and warm up your muscles is important, whereas post-run a static, deep stretch is required to start the recovery process. What is the difference though?

“Dynamic stretching involves moving your joints and muscles through their full range of movement a number of times without holding a particular position e.g. swinging your leg backwards and forwards or swinging your arms in big circles,” says Bryony. “Static stretching on the other hand, involves holding a muscle in a lengthened position for a longer period of time.”

The two different kinds of stretching work your muscles and body in different ways that aid in warming it up, and cooling it down.

“Dynamic stretching is the kind of stretching that activates the muscles and allows them to prepare for the hard work that they are about to do, whereas static stretching works to lengthen the muscles over a longer period.”

It’s important not to use the latter pre-event, as if you over-stretch your muscles you could cause them to deactivate, which in turn would render them useless for an optimal contraction during running.”

What to stretch, and what not to overstretch

There are a few muscle groups that are more dominant than others when you trail run. That said, it doesn’t mean you get to focus on one muscle and forget about the rest. Trail running is an all-body workout, and subsequently you should be stretching all of it prior-to or after a run. One muscle group that Bryony makes mention of is the quadriceps, not only because they are used during a trail run, but also because of how little we use them, given our sedentary lifestyles spent in front of computers and the TV.

“The most important muscles to be stretched for most of us are the quadriceps (on the front part of the thigh) especially when you are doing a lot of hilly runs or runs with lots of steps. This helps to counteract the tightness that develops in the front part of the body that builds up from day-to-day activities such as sitting and driving, as well as stretching out the muscles that work really hard when we run.”

There are also muscles that are commonly overstretched, which will inhibit your optimum ability to perform if you do so.

“Calves and hamstrings should be stretched very gently, if at all. When a muscle “feels” tight, it is often because the muscle is weaker and shouldn’t necessarily be stretched. Because every body is different, it is also important to know which parts of your body need to be stretched and which parts should be strengthened.”

Recovery

Stretching aside, recovery is also a vital component of your training and racing.

“Proper recovery is vital for efficient training. A rest day within a training programme allows your body time to adapt and improve, as muscles strengthen,” says Bryony.

Not everyone is same though, so how do you explain your Garmin telling you that you need 24 hours of recovery while your trail partner only needs 18 hours. How do you gauge just how much time you need to put your feet up?

“Each body recovers at a different pace, depending on your fitness and preparation, so the most important thing is to listen to your body. Return to training should only happen when your muscles and joints feel rested and normal.”

Bryony also insists that rest doesn’t actually mean Debonairs and the third season of House of Cards.

“The most essential thing during rest is to keep moving during this time. This might involve going for a walk or a light swim the day after a race or a heavy training session. Gentle movement helps to keep the muscles and joints lubricated, but still allows the muscles to rest and heal.”

And if you don’t allow yourself time to recover, well then you’ll find yourself gaining momentum down a slippery, steep slope.

“When the body is fatigued and over-worked, it is more likely to stiffen-up and move into compensatory patterns to try and support and protect itself. When this happens, you have a much higher risk of developing over-use injuries.”

So with all that said and done, it’s time to consider the importance of stretching (both before and after a run), as well as allowing your body time to recover – and how it’s going to positively effect your trail running experiences.

Recovery Quick Fixes

The Ice Bath

According to Bryony, the only real way to recover after a few hard days of training or a race is to take a day or two off and let your body recover naturally. Sometimes though, especially in situations like stage races, you have minimal time and need a quick fix – enter ‘the ice-bath’. “The theory of the ice bath after a race is that it causes the blood vessels to constrict, flushes out waste products and reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. Then after the ice bath, the tissue warms up and the increased blood flow speeds circulation, which allows the healing process to be stimulated,” explains Bryony.

What’s more, “an ice bath allows a large area of the body to be treated, rather than the smaller area that a small ice pack can treat.”

The Hot Soak

Soaking in a hot bath after a long run sounds a little too dreamy to be taken seriously. Apparently however, if you stretch out in a hot bath several hours after a hard effort, you will actually enjoy several benefits. “Hot baths are very soothing to tired, sore muscles, and the warmth helps to increase the blood flow to areas that are needing to recover. You should only really take a hot bath a couple of hours after the race, and it is important to drink lots of water because the heat can cause dehydration,” says Bryony.

Pre-race Dynamic Stretches

Leg Swing

1) Stand on level ground and support your balance by holding onto a wall/friend.
2. Shift your weight onto one leg and with your hand on your hip, swing your other leg backwards and forwards. 
NB: Keep your foot flexed and toes pointing upwards, and keep your hips level. Don’t try and get your leg as high as you can (you’re not a ballerina), rather keep it controlled and within it’s range of motion.

Walking Lunge with a Twist

1. Start in a standing position, ensuring that your core is activated, your hands are on your hips and your back is upright.
2. Take a step forwards with your right foot, bending the left knee down towards the ground in a lunge motion.
3. In the lunge position, rotate your upper body towards your right side, then return to the centre.
4. Instead of stepping your left foot up to meet your right foot, step immediately forwards with your left foot and drop your right knee (i.e. walking). Repeat five steps per side, turn around and walk back to your starting point in the same manner.
NB: Pay attention to your hips and keep them level at all times, i.e. don’t drop into them when you drop your knee down. Be mindful that your knee tracks over your second toe, and doesn’t hyperextend forwards. Your thigh and calf should be at right angles to one another when you’re lunging.

Bum Kicks

1. Start standing tall, with your hands behind your back, palms facing up. Step forwards with your right foot and kick your left heal backwards until it touches your palms.
2. Repeat on the other side, and walk forwards.
NB: Once you’ve done it a few times, introduce a skip/jog to your step.

More about Bryony Taberlet:

Based in Sea Point, Bryony Taberlet Physiotherapy is a practice that aims to look at the body in an holistic way in order to find and treat not only the symptoms but above all, the cause of chronic injuries. “If you are an athlete struggling with a recurring injury, or an active person trying to manage on-going, chronic pain, by using lynotherapy to assess the alignment of your body, we can get to the root of any problem to relieve the pain, and help you to optimise your body’s abilities,” says Bryony.