Stretching increases your flexibility and increases blood flow to the muscles. As your muscles become more flexible, your range of motion increases. Your body becomes more efficient in doing its work. For example, as you stretch your quadriceps and they become more flexible and your strides become wider. You can go a farther distance with the same amount of effort, consequently improving your speed. Choose either static stretching, like the stretches you remember from gym class, or participate in active stretching like yoga or tai chi.
Assess your speed. You can't know where you are going unless you know where you've been. To measure your speed, you can time your runs. Progress means that you will either run a longer distance in the same amount of time, or going the same distance in less time.
Measure your flexibility. If you bend over and can't touch the floor, you have a benchmark for your flexibility. You can also take a sit and reach test, the flexibility test used in the Presidential Fitness Assessment that you took in eighth grade gym class. After performing a series of static stretches, sit on the floor with your legs in a v-shape. Place a yardstick on the floor between your legs. Lean forward, measuring how far your hands reach on the yardstick.
Stretch after your workout. After your workout, stretch the muscles you use when running including hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles. A 2010 study in the "Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery" shows that regular stretching relieves the heel pain associated with plantar fasciitis. A seated forward fold is a common stretch used for the hamstrings, calves and lower back. Your neck and back can also get tense while running, so don't forget to stretch your shoulders. Hold each pose for 10 to 30 seconds for the best results.
Take a class. Yoga is a form of exercise that includes stretching and increases flexibility. Instead of choosing a power class that focuses on getting your heart rate up, choose a yoga class that focuses on stretching. Classes with names like "Deep Stretch" or "Long, Slow, Deep" are names of the types of classes you are looking for. Yoga poses like "Legs Up the Wall" reverse the direction of blood flow, bringing relief to the legs, while stretching the hamstrings. Tai chi is a form of martial arts where you move slowly, stretching your muscles at the same time.
Track and measure your progress. Keep a record of your running speed, as well as score on the sit-and-reach test. You can use a basic notebook, a computer spreadsheet or a fitness phone application to record your results.
- Photo Credit Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images