You might remember that we introduced our recently-published book, Stretching With Ease, with a #MotivationMonday blog post back in January? Well since several of us in the office are training for various races and events (including a couple of brave souls running the London Marathon at the end of this month), we decided to launch an #ActiveApril blog series. Join us each Monday for a new post, starting with a few more of author Linda Minarik’s stretches. These aim to improve your post-workout routine and help you avoid any pesky injuries. Linda suggests mixing up the stretches in our first post with the stretches below to improve your running performance.
1. Upper back (flexion): backward pull, standing
The Setup: Stand with your feet comfortably apart, about the width of your shoulders. Keep your knees slightly bent throughout the stretch. As you move into the stretch position, let your neck relax and your gaze drop.
For this stretch, you will be leaning backward against a support that doesn’t move. Some possibilities in your home may be (a) a doorway with mouldings on either side that extend out from the wall and form convenient finger holds; (b) a floor-to-ceiling stationary pole; or (c) two doorknobs on either side of an open door. Even a stretching partner holding the other end of a towel can work, if the person leans back and counters your pull.
The Stretch: Grasp your support firmly at approximately shoulder height, and slowly lean away from it, rounding your upper back and letting it expand backward. You are creating a “hollow back.” To get in touch with the widening feeling of this stretch, just keep imagining that you can feel your upper back getting broader. You may need to try the position several times, perhaps on different days, to allow your body time to learn how to execute it well.
Don’t be too concerned if you feel your lower back responding to your commands for your upper back. Just keep concentrating on what’s happening in your upper back.
ENLIST YOUR MIND
Begin thinking about being able to tuck and tilt your pelvis. When you can do that, the next thing is being able to tuck and tilt your pelvis while keeping your ribs stationary. Of course these are movements for your body to do, but the first step in your ability to do a movement is a clear understanding of what that movement is.
2. Lower back (flexion): hug and release, seated
The Setup: Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet in front of you. Hug your elbows around your thighs; grab each opposite elbow with your hands. Pull your chest right to the thighs. Bend your knees as much as you need to in order to feel your chest actually touching your thighs. You may already be experiencing the lifting-up feeling in your lower-back/sacral area. Relax your head forward so you do not tax the neck muscles.
The Stretch: Very slowly, begin to straighten your legs. As you do, concentrate on keeping your thighs against your chest. Take as much time as you want to in your progress towards straightening your legs. At some point—farther away from the floor if you need more flexibility work, closer if you are more flexible to begin with—your chest will come away from your thighs. This is okay. Continue your slow descent toward the floor. When your legs become so straight that you have to release your arms from behind your legs, gently place your arms by your sides without disturbing your position.
Stay in your final position a bit longer, reaching for the feeling of new length in your lower back and sacrum. This stretch works well when you perform it twice.
ENLIST YOUR MIND
Keep thinking: lift up, up and forward, up and forward. Be patient with your mind–body connection. If you discover that, when you gave the signal to lengthen your lower back, you have cricked your neck instead, then you know your body computer does not yet have a program for the thought you are sending it.
Take a breath. Start again; repeat the signal. Leave it for the day; try it again the next day. You are educating your body to interpret the signals your mind sends it. You may be surprised at how much your body learned the next time you try this.
3. Quadriceps: heel to buttocks, prone
The Setup: Lie face down on the floor, with your legs at full length. The stretch will involve one leg and one hand, so you can either rest your chin on the other hand, or turn your head sideways and rest your cheek on your hand.
The Stretch: Reach back with your right hand and grasp your right foot. Slowly bring your heel in toward your butt. The stretchy feeling will appear in the front of your right thigh (which is resting against the floor). Gently press your hip bone to the floor, taking away any bend in your hip. The right side of your body is now a straight line from shoulder to knee.
When you first practice this stretch, you may be unable to reach your foot with your hand. You can hook a towel around your foot (either small or large, depending on the length you need) so that you can still pull your foot toward your butt. With practice you will gain more range, and the towel will become unnecessary. The stretch is at its maximum when your knee touches your butt. Repeat the stretch on the other side.
Make sure your legs are together. The knee of the stretching leg should be right next to the knee of the straight leg—not winging out to the side. Also, check that your foot comes straight toward the butt—not to the outside or inside of it. Correct alignment will make sure you have no joint problems as you practice.
ENLIST YOUR MIND
You can get a subtle increase of stretch in this position by feeling into the front of your thigh with your mind. Take a couple of breaths to eliminate mental distractions. Imagine that your thigh is getting longer because it is separating from the hip joint and creating more space there. As you think this, gently send your right knee away from your right hip along the floor. If you are really tuned in to your muscles, you can feel greater space in the hip joint and greater stretch in the thigh.
Stretching With Ease by Linda Minarik is available here. Happy #ActiveApril!