In a recent blog post, I eluded to having dysfunctional hips. Poor running form, extended periods of sitting at work, pelvis misalignment, and really bad stretching habits has led to a history of hip tendonitis, iliopsoas hip snapping, and piriformis syndrome.
The worst part is that I have only myself to blame. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to gather that general inflexibility creates a whole slew of problems throughout the kinetic chain, particularly for runners.
So, in conjunction with tapping into some professional services (i.e chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy), below are ten stretches I’ve added to my life; they’re perfect for any runner’s playbook. Keep in mind that dysfunction has a domino effect, so skipping muscle groups is ill-advised!
If you experience knee pain or pressure performing any of the below stretches, STOP!! While some knee pain can be resolved through loosening the muscles that attach at the knee (calves, quads, hamstrings), too much pressure while stretching can cause injury. Use your judgement, and consult your doctor if necessary.
10 STRETCHES IN 10 MINUTES
Hold each stretch 30 seconds per side. It takes a full 30 seconds for complete release.
1. Quadricep Stretch: This one you’ve probably done a million times and for good reason. It’s a keeper. Stand with both feed facing forward. Grab the top of one of your feet with the arm on the same side (i.e. left arm, left leg). Maintain as square and upright as possible. If you are leaning excessively or cannot find your balance, use a wall for support.
2. Triangle Hamstring Stretch: There are tons of ways to stretch your hammy’s, but this one works best for me. I find it stretches much deeper than the seated hamstring stretch, and the split stance helps protect your low back. Stand in a split stance with both feet facing forward. Lean over the front leg, and shift your weight slightly behind you. For more intensity, lift your front toes off the ground and sink even deeper into the stretch.
3. Gastrocnemius Stretch: Your calves are made up of upper and lower muscles and tendons. The upper muscle is called the gastrocnemius.
The upper and lower muscles along with the Achilles tendon are runners’ spring boards, so give them some serious love. Find a solid support – could be a wall, but I used the couch. With a split stance and forward facing hips and feet, lean forward, keeping your back leg straight. You should feel this stretch in your upper calf.
4. Soleus/Achilles Stretch: The lower calf muscle is the soleus and is in the same general area as the Achilles tendon. Tight lower leg muscles and tendons are one of the leading causes of plantar faciitis which you definitely don’t want, so keep ’em limber! From the above position, shift back, straightening your forward leg and bending the back leg at the knee while keeping the back foot planted on the ground. You should feel this one deep in the lower achilles and heel.
5. Adductor (Inner Thigh) Stretch: Whenever I hear “adductors” I always think of the famous Thigh Master. Hehe. After using a thigh master or going for a run, it’s important to stretch your inner thighs. Tight or overactive adductors can lead to muscle imbalance (i.e. weak ABductors – the outter thigh muscles – and a weak glute.) Unfortunately, weak glutes almost always lead to hip problems.
With a wide stance and toes turned out, shift body to one side keeping weight in your heels and an upright torso. Play with the position of the foot on your straight leg. Some people can get deeper by lifting the toes and sinking further in the opposite direction. If you do so, be conscious of your bent knee that it doesn’t receive too much pressure. Good rule of thumb is to not let your bent knee fall past your toe.
6. Iliotibial (IT) Band Stretch: This one is the most complicated of the stretches. there’s not a lot of movement, but the stretch is intense. In an upright position, split your stance. Try to keep both feet forward facing; you can slightly turn out the back foot if needed, but you must keep your hips squared and level (no hip dropping!). From here, shift your weight slightly forward driving with your hips and bending the forward leg slightly. This should initiate the stretch. For even more intensity, raise the opposite arm as the forward leg, reach for the ceiling, and bend at the waist across the plane of the forward leg. Keep those hips squared. If you don’t feel a serious stretch through the forward hip, then congrats, you’re loose!
7. Hip Flexor Stretch: With a wide split stance, bend over and plant both hands on the inside of your forward foot. Adjust your back foot until it is straight, and your forward leg creates a right angle with the ground. Flatten your back as much as possible and breathe deeply. If you have hips like mine, this one will get’cha!
8. Psoas Stretch: Use the hip flexor stretch as your starting position. Drop your back knee to the ground. Bring your torso to the upright position. Adjust your hips so that they are square to the front. Lift the opposite arm as the forward leg overhead, and reach toward the ceiling. If you’re feeling good, try a slight side bend (keep those hips squared dead ahead!) to achieve an even a deeper psoas stretch.
9. Piriformis Stretch:
a. With one foot on the ground at a 45 degree angle, lift the other leg and place it across the top of the planted leg. Grabbing the planted leg underneath (never grab directly below or above the knee), shift your weight back until that calf is parallel with the floor and you feel a deep stretch in the opposite glute.
b. If as you pull the planted your leg toward you, the opposite knee begins to cave in toward your nose, use your palm to apply slight pressure like this…
10. Low Back Stretch:
a. This is your starting position.
b. Shift hips and knees to the side, stacking the knees. You can see that my knees aren’t perfectly stacked here. You can do better! For some, this position provides sufficient stretching of the low back. For others, it’s not quite enough.
c. If desired, extend the bottom leg straight out (in line with body), and extend the top leg out across the body. Your shoulders should remain squared to the ground.
Some people wish for a magic weight-loss pill. I, on the other hand, wish for a magic stretching pill. Since such a pill isn’t available over the counter yet, I am relegated to actually doing it myself. Bummer.
What’s your favorite stretch?