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Listen, Learn, Do: An Activated Stretch Routine Changed My Running

Listen, Learn, Do: An Activated Stretch Routine Changed My Running

Zissy Lewin
Listen, Learn, Do: An Activated Stretch Routine Changed My Running

We listen to podcasts daily. They range from listens purely for entertainment to listens with the intention of learning. Every now and again, we learn something in a podcast that we end up applying to our lives. Welcome to the Listen, Learn, Do series. A series of things we learnt from podcasts that made their way into our lives.  

 

It took me years of running to form a habit of foam rolling and stretching post run – despite knowing it’s good for me. So, it was surprising to me then that I picked up a pre-run activated stretch routine after listening to one podcast. Perhaps it’s because it’s done before a run, before you’re tired and sweaty. Perhaps it’s because I started it in winter where the need to warm up your joints feels greater than in summer. Whatever it was, I now spend time actively stretching before each run and it’s a game changer.

 

The podcast that inspired this routine was the Science of Sport Podcast with professional runner and Olympian Dominique Scott-Efurd. The podcast is 90 minutes and it had nothing to do with activated stretches. It came up as part of the conversation around training and the little things Dominique changed to improve her times. Somehow, I ended those 90 minutes of listening with a desire to add an activated stretch routine to my running.

 

The turning moment for Dominique came after she watched as a teammate (who was training with her), placed 100 spots in front of her. She started looking at the nuances, the tiny things that she wasn’t doing that could explain her performance.

 

It seems like an odd place to start, but as Dr Ross Tucker explained, relatively small changes can make a huge difference (even in recreational athletes) because small changes pull everything else together. They work parallel to everything else you’re doing and weave around them to make those actions better. These little changes aren’t innovative, yet they’re hard to do. Proper warm-ups and stretches are the first things to go when you’re short of time. But they make a considerable difference to your performance. Dominique summed it up by saying that it’s funny how distance runners are happy to spend an hour and a half running but not 3-5 minutes stretching or doing activated exercises.

 

The reason it is so difficult is because it’s not habitual and we don’t see the benefit immediately. With a run or workout, you feel the benefits immediately. When you stretch or warm up, it takes time to notice the benefit, and sometimes the only benefit is that you don’t get injured. Which is more the absence of something than a glaring obvious connection between the two activities.

 

Activation exercises are something Dominique only started doing recently under her new coach. She explains activation exercises as stretches that are non-static. You are moving and waking up your body and making sure that all your muscles are firing and ready to work. Her activation exercise routine is quite involved. It involves leg swings, where standing up (holding a wall if need be for support) you swing your legs forward and back, side to side. She also does knee raises over hurdles, hamstring activation, glute bridges, runner touches, lunges, core exercises and band exercises.  Activation stretches are also useful when you start feeling a niggle. Warming up the niggly area prior to a run, helps prevent the injury worsening.

 

Static stretches, popular a decade ago, are a waste of time according to Dr Ross Tucker. Unless you do them after a run – once your limbs are properly warmed up. Ross explained that activated stretches remind your brain where each muscle is and turns them on.

 

The day after I listed to the podcast, I started doing activated stretches before my run. I followed that up the next day and the day after that and eventually a habit was born. My activated stretch routine is not quite as complex as Dominique’s, I’m recreational not professional. I do leg swings, knee lifts (no hurdles), back kicks, lateral bounds, hip openers, tin soldiers and whatever other active stretches I feel like. It takes 3-5 minutes, and have I told you it’s changed my running? During winter that little routine helped my legs feel like limbs and not stiff blocks of ice. Overall my legs feel looser and I’m able to pick up the speed faster. I’ve also *knock on wood* avoided injuries.

 

The only records I’m breaking may be my own, but they’re just as satisfying. So, I’ll continue swinging my legs before runs like I’m in a Jane Fonda workout video.  Care to join?

 

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