Before exercising, you want to do an active warm-up to get blood flowing into your muscles. After exercising, you want to do static stretching because your muscles are loose and it is a prime time to gain flexibility. If you stretch a cold muscle, you can easily strain it and injure yourself. Stretching after exercise decreases your risk of injury and helps minimize stiffness. Stretching helps prevent your muscles from becoming too tight and pulling on areas that could result in injury. Quad tendonitis is often caused by tight quads pulling on the knees where they attach. Similarly, achilles tendonitis is often caused by tight calves pulling on the back of the ankle where they attach. Stretching is also a great way to end your exercise routine because it is relaxing and facilitates your heart in coming back down to it's resting rate.
Below is my favorite post-run stretching routine. It hits all the major lower body muscle groups and leaves you feeling great. Hold each exercise for 20-30 seconds. Do not push to the point of pain or discomfort. Make sure you are gentle and not aggressive. The order is not too important, but this is the sequencing I prefer.
1. Hip Flexors & IT Band: In a half kneeling position, tuck your hips under (perform a posterior pelvic tilt) and then push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your hips. Reach your arm up and overhead to stretch the IT band on the same side. Repeat on the other leg.
2. Hamstrings & Calves: In a seated postion, bend one knee out the side and straighten the other leg forward. Reach for your toes keeping the leg straight until you feel a stretch in the back of your upper and lower leg. If you can reach your foot, pull your toes up towards your nose to stretch the bottom of your foot too. Repeat on the other side.
3. Glutes: In the same seated position, grab one leg and pull your knee up towards your chest while keeping the other leg straight. Pull the leg until you feel a stretch in your bottom. You can also twist your upper body towards the leg to emphasize the stretch. Repeat on both sides.
4. Adductors (Inner Thighs): Sit in a "butterfly" position allowing both knees to fall out to the sides. You can lean your trunk forward keeping your back flat/straight to emphasize the stretch.
5. Quads: Laying on your stomach, grab one foot and bring it up towards your bottom until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Try to keep both hips on the ground so you are not rotating your body. Repeat on both sides.
6. Down Dog: On your hands and feet, push your heels down towards the ground while keeping your hips high. This will stretch your hamstring/calves (back of the upper and lower legs). At the same time, try to open your shoulders to stretch your upper body as well. Most people recognize this as a yoga pose, and it is great for runners and other athletes too.
Being a gymnast for the first 20 years of my life, I was too flexible and had over stretched all of my joints. After spending several years tightening everything back up, I am now at a happy medium and do not feel like Gumby anymore. I enjoy doing these stretches after every run followed by foam rolling. It helps decrease soreness and keeps my muscles at a good length to prevent injury.
Do you have a stretching routine?