Ask the Coach: Achilles Tightness

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With age, my Achilles tendons have become increasingly tight and sore. What is the best stretch to perform, and is it recommended to stretch them both before and after a run?
—Eddie Fullmer, Abilene, TX

This article appeared in our 2010 Race Issue.

As we age, our muscles lose elasticity. Translation: You will get tighter—unless you stretch regularly. The real problem is not the tightness itself but the lack of resiliency. For example, a muscle may not respond to an unexpected slip, twist or odd step, but instead may cry “uncle,” resulting in a strain. And you can always expect the unexpected when trail running!

The first step is keeping your muscles strong by remaining active. Now you just need to keep them flexible too and that means stretching before and after runs, as well as during long runs if you start to tighten up.

The simplest stretch is a bent-knee lunge: With the front knee bent, place one foot behind you a foot or two. Keeping the rear heel glued to the ground and your weight centered between the two, slowly bend the rear knee until you feel the stretch in the calf muscles. Be sure to keep your weight from moving backward. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds.

Tips: make it a habit to do the stretch whenever you pause on the trail. Also, be sure to start your runs then stop for a couple of minutes after you feel warm (five to 10 minutes) to stretch. Oh, and avoid starting your runs with huge leaps and bounds up hills, which puts extra strain on cold muscles.

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