The Cool-down Jog
After your practice, have students jog for 5-10 minutes to cool down before post-workout stretching. The cool-down gradually brings the body back to a resting state and prevents blood and waste products like lactic acid from pooling in the muscles.
This is a great time to build team unity. Use this time to recognize solid effort following a practice or race and give runners a chance to acknowledge each other. Try keeping the team engaged during stretching by having a team member lead the stretches or having the team count aloud. Make it fun by sometimes counting in a different language, having certain kids do the odd numbers and others the evens, or playing with loud/soft dynamics.
- Encourage fluid breathing during stretching.
- Have runners breathe into each stretch and extend it gradually.
- Use a selection of stretches at each practice that engages all the major muscles used in running. Also include some of the support muscles that provide stability (such as the abdominals, hip adductors, and hip abductors), but don't directly propel the body forward in the running stride.
- Recognize that some runners are more flexible than others and everyone should stretch only as far as they can to feel tension without pain. (A stretch may not look like a good stretch to you, but it might be for them. Stretching to one's limits over time will lead to increased flexibility to new limits.)
- Be encouraging. Offer gentle support when needed to help athletes get into the position and feel the stretch.
Increasing flexibility of muscles and joints results in greater range of motion which enables more efficient running. While not directly proven, it may also reduce injuries, such as pulled muscles, as the body has the flexibility to move through a greater range of motion, before injury occurs. Additionally, a tight muscle will pull on other muscles, ligaments, and bones which can cause the body to move out of alignment. This can lead to inefficiencies in form and also cause other areas of the body to compensate for the poor alignment, which over time may lead to injury.