RUNNING Away From Injury: Stretched Out
View previous post in this series, RUNNING Away From Injury.
A dedicated runner who gets injured is not in a good mood. Cranky, impatient, and feeling low, many injured runners ignore their pain and lace up anyway. It’s too painful NOT to.
Running pounds the body relentlessly. It can take years for the joints, muscles and soft tissues to accept the beating. When your body adapts, your bones become more dense and your muscles grow stronger. Running is a healthy activity, burns mega calories, and will help you stay fit.
Devoting a little time to your body off the streets can help your body adapt to the stresses of repetitive foot strikes on hard surfaces.
The current recommendation is to stretch after you run, not before.
Light movements such as kicking, walking lunges, jumping jacks or walking can be done prior to get the blood flowing. Static stretches, as shown here, are best done when the body is warm after your run.
Just remember, it’s common to be the least flexible immediately after running. Muscles tend to contract to accommodate the force and pounding causing stiffness.
I primarily focus on the outer leg (iliotibial band), hip flexors, hip joint, hamstrings, and calves. Every part is interconnected. If you don’t stretch your calves, you’ll be more susceptible to plantar fasciitis, pain in the arch of the foot.
These stretches are simple but still do the job of lengthening those areas that tend to flare up and become tight.
Favorite Stretches for the IT Band
The iliotibial band is a thickening of tissue that extends from outside the pelvis down to the knee. Running can inflame the IT band and cause pain on the outside of the knee.
Seated Leg Crossover
- Place each knee inside the elbow and pull and hold across the body. Don’t shift your upper body.
- Feel the pull from your bottom to the outside of your knee.
- Place each foot on a chair or bench and lean over your foot while keeping bottom leg straight.
- Feel the pull on the outside of the thigh.
Crossed Leg Sit
- Hold on to a stable surface that is about shoulder height. Cross each leg over the opposite knee and sit down into a deep stretch.
- The leg on the ground should be bent at an approximately 90 degree angle. Knee does not come out over the toe.
Crossed Leg on Mat
- Same exercise as the Crossed Leg Sit above except while on your back.
- You should feel a stretch in your hamstring on the leg you’re holding onto.
Favorite Stretches for the Hip Flexors
Hip flexors are a group of muscles that act to pull the knee upward. Used extensively when running.
Standing Tall Lunge
- The sole purpose in photo below is to stretch my right hip flexor. Turn your shoulders slightly and press forward with hand on the top of your extended leg.
- Keep your bent knee over your mid foot that is on the ground. Don’t let your knee extend out in front of your toes.
- Same as above except on the ground.
- Advanced: Per photo below, grab right foot with right hand while still keeping hip pushed forward. Great for stretching quad at same time.
Kneeling Lunge with Twist
- Do the kneeling lunge and reach opposite arm across your body. Apply gently pressure with your elbow.
- You should feel a stronger pull in your hip flexor and a gentle pull in your inner thigh.
Knee Pull In
- Pull each knee into chest while keeping straight leg flat on the ground.
- By fighting the urge to bend the bottom leg, you should feel a stretch in that hip flexor.
The Pigeon- One of my very favorites!
- Frequently seen in yoga, the pigeon stretches the entire hip area and inside the thigh.
- Take advantage of both positions shown below by holding the poses.
- Variation (not pictured): Sit with legs straight out in front. Bend one leg in placing sole of foot on inside of knee of straight leg. Lean forward over straight leg. Feel the stretch in your hamstring and hips.
Downward Dog with Twist
- From the downward dog position lift one leg and twist as shown.
- The key is to keep bottom leg stationery while really opening up your hips.
Favorite Stretches for Hamstrings
It’s simple to stretch your hamstrings. Sitting or standing, stretch your legs out in front and reach over them. Feel the pull behind your thigh.
To get a deeper stretch and increase your flexibility, try this. Whenever reaching out over your leg to stretch, place either forearm under the hamstring you’re stretching. Gently apply pressure to the muscle as you lean forward and out front. You can even slide your forearm along the bottom side of your leg as you progress forward. Don’t bend your leg. The counter pressure will increase how far you can lean.
Standing Straddle Stretch
Unlike a seated hamstring stretch, gravity helps here. Those less flexible will have more success with this method.
- Bending at the knees slightly while using hands for balance, gently lower bottom as if taking a seat.
- Variation: Keep legs straight and grab back of ankles and pull body into triangle.
- With legs straight, reach out over each ankle, pull gently and hold.
Favorite Stretches for Calves
Calves are often neglected by runners and are the cause of many running injuries, especially of the foot. I never had foot problems until I eliminated calf stretches out of my usual routine.
When the calves are tight, they create tension on our achilles tendon (large tendon on back of ankle) and that can cause tension in the fascia of our foot. Injuries to your achilles can be chronic as can foot pain. A little time now can save you lots of grief later!
- Make sure your heel can drop from a platform to create the full stretch.
- Lifting one leg can create a deeper stretch as well as build strength in the foot.
Calf and Glute Stretch
- While doing a calf stretch, stretch the other leg down and then back creating tension clear up through your glute muscle.
- The key is keeping your hips pointed forward. Don’t rotate. The contraction is your goal, not a high lift of the leg.
Running Start Stretch
- Simple and great way to stretch your calves. HOLD the stretch.
- Take full advantage by stretching the fascia of your other foot at the same time.
Avoid running on concrete if possible. Asphalt, tracks, and dirt trails are much easier on your joints. Concrete has no mercy and can lead you to stress fractures and shin splints, especially if you’re new to the sport.
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