‘The world seems to be in three camps about stretching,’ says John Stanton, founder of the Running Room and the Walking Room, and author of eight books on running. ‘There are those who stretch all the time, others who never stretch and those who stretch sporadically’this last group is at the highest risk of injury because they often overstretch muscles that are inflexible due to not being stretched regularly. I personally believe we should stretch because flexible muscles perform better.’
When stretching before running or walking, concentrate largely on getting the legs limber. ‘The Sumo Squat is fantastic because it stretches hamstrings, quads, calves and tendons in the lower leg’all in a gentle pose,’ says Stanton. ‘Because the stretch is gentle, it can be done both before and after you run’as well as at stoplights. That beats running on the spot, and it will also help keep the muscles loose.’
Start with feet more than shoulder-width apart, toes angled out at 45 degrees. Bend forward at the waist, and squat so knees are bent and thighs are parallel with the floor. Place elbows between knees; press palms together. Drop hips to the ground, keeping chest lifted. Take a deep breath, and try to maintain a flat back as you push hips back, with heels on the floor, until you feel the stretch in your hamstrings and groin. Tip: To make the stretch easier, place a folded towel underneath your heels. ‘If you have knee problems, place a chair behind you and do hovering squats’if you lose your balance, the chair is there to catch you,’ says Stanton.