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Wellness

Why you need to stretch after running or even brisk walking to avoid injuries

It shouldn’t be an afterthought and there are proper ways of doing it – we list down 7 stretches to keep you limber and pain-free while doing your rounds in the park this weekend.

Why you need to stretch after running or even brisk walking to avoid injuries

You should feel the stretch through your back leg, hip flexors and quadriceps. (Screen grab: Hustle Hut; model: Alyssa Kau)

It's back to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) again. For exercise enthusiasts, you know what this means: No mask-off activities such as strenuous indoor exercise classes. No individual and group indoor sports and exercise activities either. 

Fortunately, there is still the option of heading outdoors for brisk walking and jogging. Pretty straightforward, right? Just put on your shoes and off you go. But do you take the time to stretch after running? From what I have observed at the park, most people simply slow down their steps, catch their breath, put on their masks, and call it a day.

Maybe they're hiding in some secluded spot, away from prying eyes like mine?

The brave ones who openly participate in stretching post-cardio activity (that includes brisk walking, too) are few and far between. And from what I have seen, those who stretch do so with the most unusual poses, such as spinning their arms around like a human windmill.

The oddest had to be a man who laid down on the grass on his back, drew his knees to his chest, grabbed his ankles with his hands, and started rocking back and forth on his back like a rocking horse.

WHY IS STRETCHING IMPORTANT?

The fact of the matter is, you shouldn’t be stretching only after exercising, but daily. According to David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, you should be stretching a few times a day to maintain the range of motion in your joints.

But I can’t even touch my toes, you say. “All the more you should be stretching and moving,” said Hustle Hut personal trainer Alyssa Kau.

(Photo: iStock/Bongkarn Thanyakij)

Without this flexibility, you increase the muscle tension in your body and your risk of injury, explained the 27-year-old, who is also a group fitness trainer and yoga instructor.

Take, for instance, the simple act of bending at the waist to pick up a sock; your tight back and hamstring muscles can’t extend all the way and you might pull them if you force the action.

So, why stretch after exercising then? “When everything is cold, the muscle fibres aren't prepared and may be damaged,” said Nolan in a Harvard Health Publishing article. “If you exercise first, you'll get blood flow to the area, and that makes the tissue more pliable and amenable to change.”

As for pre-exercise stretching, do a lighter version of your intended exercise for five to 10 minutes before stretching, advised Nolan.

(Photo: iStock/Jay Zynism)

HOW SHOULD YOU STRETCH?

Two major joints in your body are essential to brisk walking and running: The knees and hips. They need to be stable and mobile at the same time to ensure their full function and prevent injuries, said Kau, which the following seven stretches can help with.

When stretching, it's best to avoid bouncing or jerky movements to try and push further into the stretch,” Kau cautioned. “These movements can tear tendons and muscles.”

READ: Feeling tired while working from home? 5 easy exercises to boost your energy

And to ensure you include your shoulders and neck, which you might unconsciously tense up while walking or running, Kau also has upper body side and shoulder stretches.

Here’s what you can do at the park when you’re done brisk walking or running.

ACTIVE LUNGE STRETCH 

  • Start with feet hip-width apart, hands on the hips.
  • Take a step forward with your left foot. Keep your toes and knee pointing straight ahead.
  • Slowly bend your left knee. Check that your feet are still hip-width apart. You should feel the stretch through your back leg, hip flexors and quadriceps.
  • Slowly rise with control, then lower yourself back down.
  • Inhale on the way up and exhale on the way down.
  • Repeat five times, then switch to your right leg.
You should feel the stretch through your back leg, hip flexors and quadriceps. (Screen grab: Hustle Hut; model: Alyssa Kau)

PASSIVE LUNGE STRETCH 

  • Find a bench, tree or lamppost for support, and stand about one arm’s length away. Keep your feet hip-width apart.
  • Slowly bend your left knee. Check that your feet are still hip-width apart. You should feel the stretch through your back leg, hip flexors and quadriceps.
  • Exhale as you stretch. Hold the position for 20 seconds, then switch to your right leg.
Hold the stretch for 20 seconds on each leg. (Screen grab: Hustle Hut; model: Alyssa Kau)

QUADRICEP STRETCH AND HIP MOBILITY CIRCLE

  • Find a bench, tree or lamppost for support. Stand about one arm’s length away from it.
  • Bend your left knee and bring your heel up towards your butt. Keep your knees close to each other and stand as tall as you can. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds.
  • Release your heel but keep your knee bent. Place your left hand on your hip.
  • Draw a circle with your left knee by bringing it up towards your chest, opening it out towards the side and lowering it back down so that the knees touch.
  • Inhale as you draw the circle, exhale as you bring your knee back in. Repeat three times.
  • Each set consists of a 10-second stretch and three hip mobility circles. Perform five sets on each leg.
Bend your knee and bring your heel up towards your butt. Keep your knees close to each other and stand as tall as you can. (Screen grab: Hustle Hut; model: Alyssa Kau)

SUPPORTED FIGURE FOUR STRETCH

  • Find a bench, tree or lamppost for support, and stand about one arm’s length away from it. Keep your feet hip-width apart.
  • Lift your right leg and bring the ankle to the knee, creating a figure of 4.
  • Slowly send your hips back and chest forward. Check that your left knee does not go past your ankle.
  • To help you get into a deeper stretch, pulse your body up and down. With each downward movement, lower yourself a bit more. Exhale as you deepen the stretch.
  • Hold for 20 seconds, then switch to your left leg.
Bring the ankle to the knee, creating a figure of 4. Slowly send your hips back and chest forward. (Screen grab: Hustle Hut; model: Alyssa Kau)

ACTIVE SIDE LUNGE STRETCH

  • Start with your feet wide apart, hands on the hips.
  • Bend your right knee into a half squat and keep your other leg straight.
  • Press hips back while keeping your spine lifted. Root into your feet so that your body stays lifted instead of sinking. Check that your bent knee does not go past your ankle.
  • Exhale to lower, inhale to rise.
  • Repeat five times, then switch to your left leg.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
Bend your knee into a half squat and keep your other leg straight. (Screen grab: Hustle Hut; model: Alyssa Kau)

SIDE BODY STRETCH 

  • Position your feet hip-width apart. Grab your left wrist with your other hand.
  • Reach both arms overhead. Lift and lengthen from your hips and slowly lean over to your left. Don’t sink into the left side of your body; instead, think about drawing an arc on your right side, so you are always lifting and lengthening. 
  • You can keep both feet on the ground, or step back your right foot for a hip flexor stretch as well.
  • Inhale to reach upward, exhale to lean over.
  • Repeat five times, then switch to your right side.
Lift and lengthen from your hips. Slowly lean over to your left, bringing your right foot back. (Screen grab: Hustle Hut; model: Alyssa Kau)

SHOULDER CIRCLES

  • Place your hands on your shoulder caps.
  • Draw big circles with your elbows, squeezing the back of your hands together when they meet at the back.
  • Inhale to lift, exhale to lower.
  • Repeat five times backwards and five times forward.
Draw big circles with your elbows. (Screen grab: Hustle Hut; model: Alyssa Kau)
Source: CNA/bk

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