Did you decide to take up running in 2016? Perhaps you’ve got a specific goal distance in mind? Maybe you’re starting from the absolute beginning with a Couch to 5k running programme? (We know a good one…) Or even just want to get running for 20 minutes a couple of times a week? Whatever your ultimate goal, you need to make sure you’re stretching properly before and after your run, which is where today’s #MotivationMonday comes in. Taken from our new book, Stretching With Ease by Linda Minarik, these stretches are designed to help ensure that “your gait becomes fluid and easy; you move with efficiency and confidence”.
1. Back: Spiral
The Setup: Lie on your back on the floor, using a carpet or mat for comfort. Place your arms by your side, palms down, forming an “A” shape (fingers reaching away from you at 45 degrees to your torso).
The Stretch: Bring both your knees as far in to your chest as you can. Drop both knees over to the left side and let them rest where they fall. Keep your right shoulder down on the floor. The stretch here is produced by your knees pulling away from your shoulder, causing your spine to form its characteristic spiral shape. Repeat the stretch on the other side.
2. Side hip: lying on side
The Setup: Lie on your right side with your legs stretched out, one on top of the other. Place a rolled-up towel under your right hip. The placement of the towel is important: it goes between your pelvic bone (iliac crest) and your thigh bone (greater trochanter). Get familiar with both these bony landmarks on your side before you place the towel. You don’t need to know anatomy: just feel the bones that come to the surface at your hip and thigh.
The Stretch: The stretch appears in the side of your hip facing the ceiling. In other words, the towel lifts your bottom hip so you can experience greater range in the top hip. Gently brace yourself with the open palm of your left hand. You can rest your head either in your hand (elbow bent) or on your straight right arm. Repeat the stretch on the other side.
3. Hip Flexors: kneeling lunge
The Setup: Kneel with your right leg forward and left leg behind you. Adjust the width of your stance for balance: for more stability, move your forward leg a little farther to the right. Your right toes should line up in front of your heel—make sure they are not rotated outside your heel. Your front knee can be a little behind the ankle—just not in front of it. This protects your knee from strain. For more support, kneel between two chairs, and place your hands on them if needed. Otherwise, place your hands lightly on your front thigh. Hold your neck in a comfortable position—neither too lifted at the chin nor too bowed toward your chest. Just comfortable, without strain. Looking straight ahead helps to accomplish this.
The Stretch: Gently tuck your pelvis. The stretch will appear in the left leg—the back leg—at the hip-flexor level in front. When you experience the stretch in the right spot, you can intensify it by moving your front leg a little more forward. Ultimately, and with practice, your back hip will be much lower to the ground. On your way there, you will have moved your front foot forward in many small increments. Now comes an important point, which cannot be stressed enough. The hip-flexor stretch contains the beginning of a lovely back extension—also called an arch. Whenever we practice developing the back extension, we always encourage length: spine goes up as well as forward, to avoid scrunching the lower spinal vertebrae together. Repeat the stretch on the other side.
4. Thighs: hamstrings
The Setup: Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and shoulders relaxed. With your knees bent, roll your spine slowly downward, beginning at the top of your head, tucking your chin, and slowly rolling down through all your spinal vertebrae. When you pass your waist with your head, pull in your belly button to support your lower back as you continue to descend toward the floor. Stop when you are at the full extent of your present hip flexion range. Your head and neck remain relaxed. Your view is of your own legs. You may already be feeling a stretch. Note how far your fingers are from the floor, so that you can compare their distance after you execute the stretch.
The Stretch: Slowly straighten your legs. Take all the time you need. If you can straighten your legs without lifting your back up at the same time, you will achieve a deeper stretch. Here we emphasize stretch in the hamstrings. But keep in mind that, if your back is more in need of stretching, that is what you will feel. Any stretch that addresses the hamstrings will also lengthen the back. What you feel is determined by the area you most need to stretch.
5. Calves: floor, leg straight
The Setup: Stand facing a wall with your left foot forward and right foot back.
Your left knee is bent; your back leg is straight. Place your hands on the wall for support at about shoulder height. Make sure your hip bones are even, that is, our pelvis is not rotated sideways in either direction. Place the heel of your right foot directly behind the toes: make sure the toes are not “winging” outside the heel.
The Stretch: Move your right foot gradually back, until it is as far back as you can move it without lifting your heel from the floor. You will feel this stretch in the “fat” part of your calf, below your knee. Repeat the stretch on the other side.
5b. Calves: support, knee bent
The Setup: Stand on a step with your hand on a support, e.g. a stair railing. Your feet are about shoulder width apart. Your left heel hangs off the step, with your weight on your right foot. Find a secure spot on the ball of your left foot where your foot feels stable as you hang your heel comfortably off the step. At this point your left leg is straight.
The Stretch: Slowly sink your left heel down off the step. Now gently bend your left knee, while still sinking your left heel down as far as you can. The stretch is still in your calf, but it now shifts to the lower part, nearer to the ankle and Achilles tendon. Repeat the stretch on the other side.
Stretching With Ease by Linda Minarik is available here, and don't forget to check out our other #MotivationMonday posts. Happy stretching!