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Dynamic warmup stretches, such as lateral lunges, can help reduce running injuries. (PHOTO: Athletico Physical Therapy)

5 stretches to help avoid running injuries

The Lake Michigan Marathon isn't until September, but for the more than 1,000 runners planning to participate, preparation is ramping up into high gear.

As racers increase their mileage in advance of the Sept. 4 event – comprising a marathon, half marathon, 50k and 20-mile "training run" through Milwaukee's urban park system – they also increase their chance of injuries. But a proper warmup and cool down, which take just minutes, can dramatically reduce the likelihood of injury.

For both recreational and professional endurance athletes, Lindsay Cullen, the endurance program co-manager at Athletico Physical Therapy, offers some recommendations here for stretches and exercises, as well as her thoughts on incorporating them.

Dynamic warmup

I recommend runners implement a dynamic stretching warmup prior to each workout. This involves controlled, repetitive movements that mimic the way muscles move during a run. Dynamic stretching aides in increasing blood flow and loosening muscles and tendons to improve range of motion and reduce likelihood of injury.

Examples of these include:

Butt kicks, 30-60 seconds: Butt kicks are a great way for runners to get their heart pumping and also help to improve stride. Swing your right leg back until it touches your right glute and return your leg to a straight position in a swift motion. Alternate with your left leg touching your left glute and begin incorporating swinging arm movements. Practice this while jogging in place or running over a distance.

Lateral lunge, 30-60 seconds: This warmup helps strengthen hip musculature, glutes and even calf muscles. Stand with your feet parallel and hips-width apart. Step to the right and shift your weight by bending your right knee into a side lunge position. Keep your butt back and your left leg as straight as possible. Push off with your right foot and return to your starting position. Continue doing this as a side "walk."

High knees, 30-60 seconds: High knee stretches help runners improve form and increase lower body strength. Start with your hips shoulder-width apart and lift your right knee up to your chest, bringing it down in a rapid motion. As soon as it returns to the ground, swiftly lift your left knee to your chest. Include a swinging arm movement while alternating legs; practice while jogging in place or running over a distance.

Easy cool down

After a workout, it's important for runners to keep moving. Cool down with an easy walk for 5-10 minutes to decrease heart rate. Afterward, I recommend static stretches, which consists of holding a stretch for at least 30 seconds in order to decrease muscle tightness and tension. While stretching, you should feel a small amount of discomfort – stay steady and avoid bouncing, which can cause micro tears in muscles. Use a foam roller afterward to loosen tight muscles and flush out lactic acid.

Examples of these include:

Wall calf stretch, three times for 30 seconds: Weak calves can lead to calf strains, shin splints and even lower back pain. For this stretch, stand facing a wall with your arms straight and your hands flat against the wall. With your right leg forward, extend your left leg straight back with your heel flat on the floor and foot pointed forward; your back knee should remain straight. Lean into the wall until you feel the stretch in the calf of your straight leg.

Hamstring stretch, three times for 30 seconds: I always recommend this for runners experiencing back pain, as hamstring tightness can actually lead to increased stress across the lower back. For this stretch, lay flat on the floor and use both hands to pull your right thigh towards your chest. Straighten out your knee until you feel the stretch in the back of your leg. Hold for 30 seconds before alternating legs.

The Lake Michigan Marathon is USATF-certified and a Boston Marathon qualifier. It's one of the last races to quality for Boston before that event's mid-September cutoff date.

Extending across the beautiful south shore of Lake Michigan, the Marathon starts and finishes at Sheridan Park in Cudahy, allowing runners to experience the Oak Leaf Trail and Seven Bridges Hiking Trail on a track that's mostly flat but with some slightly more challenging portions, in a quasi-urban, uncrowded environment. The course also goes through Warnimont Park, Grant Park, Bay View Park and South Shore Park, all of which are part of Milwaukee County's system.


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