Stretching

Blog reader Doug has asked for something about my pre-run stretching routine. So here goes…

This routine takes about 25 or so minutes. I do it every morning, just before my run, and also in the evenings of my rest days, when I swim in the morning. It’s a bit of a catch-all routine, as I’ve simply, over time, added things that I like and think will be useful.

First, about three minutes on a wobble board. This builds flexibility and strength in the ankles. My wobble board is a 16″ model, but they come in smaller sizes too.

Next, some quad stretches. I’ve incorporated a couple of changes to the standard runner’s stretch. One is that, rather than hold onto a wall for support, I hold each foot with both hands as I pull it up against my buttocks. Second – as I do with all my stretches – I hold the stretch quite a bit longer than the standard count. This is something I learned from yoga, as is the practice of getting into the stretch and then relaxing into it, rather than finding the position and simply staying there.

Then some calf stretches against a wall. When I do them, I try to create a straight line from my ankle to my shoulder, and make that line as long as possible. As with the quad stretches, I hold the position, and relax into it.

Down to the floor next, and a yoga butterfly stretch. This consists of sitting on the floor, placing the soles of your feet together, sitting up straight and tall, with your back as long as possible, and lowering your knees as close to the floor as you can. Hold your toes between your cupped hands, place your elbows in front of your shins, and – while keeping your back long and straight – lower your head forward. Hold the position, and relax into it.

Here’s an image of someone doing a very nice butterfly stretch:

Now sit-ups with the Bender Ball. (This neat little tool supposedly enhances the effect of doing sit-ups.) I started doing 5 sit-ups (all I could manage) at a time a little over a month ago, and am now up to 75. Each week, I do a few more. 100 sit-ups in each daily session is my goal.

Now some hamstring stretches. First, with legs spread in an open V and my arms and head reaching down and forward. As with all my stretches, my back is long and straight, and I hold the position and relax into it. Another learning from yoga is that, once I find and relax into the position, I can, with each breath, probably find a way to go deeper into the stretch. It’s a remarkably easy and gentle way to stretch longer and deeper. Then I do more hamstring stretches on each leg, placing the sole of the opposing leg against the inside of my knee, holding my toes with both hands, and leaning forward towards my toes.

Now, some stretching in a yoga bridge pose. This is an excellent posture for stretching the hip flexors. It also helps to strengthen the core. Lie on your back, with your knees raised and your feet flat on the floor, and draw your feet close enough that you can touch your heels with the tips of your fingers. Now raise your hips and push them up as high as you can. Clasp your hands together, and push them down against the floor. Walk your shoulder-blades in toward each other. Hold the position and relax into it. When you’re doing bridge, draw your heels back towards your body and hold your knees about 6″ to 8″ apart.

Here’s what it looks like:

Now a yoga pigeon pose. This one opens up the hips nicely. Go into a pushup/plank position, and draw one knee forward, as close to the same-side hand as possible. (Ideally, your calf will be absolutely perpendicular to your body. I’ve never got there, though, and probably never will.) Stretch the other leg backwards in a straight line, pointing your toe straight backwards. Lower your hips to the floor, keeping them absolutely straight and in line. Lift your head up high and push your chest out (that’s the “pigeon” part). Keep your weight off your hands as much as possible, and let gravity take your hips down towards the floor. Relax into the position.

Here’s what it looks like:

If you like, you can modify pigeon by lowering the upper part of your body towards the floor, resting your head against the floor. Then just relax, but make sure that your straight leg is pointing straight back and that your hips are straight. Once you get used to doing pigeon, you’ll find this is a very relaxing pose, and you’ll be able to hold it for ages.

Here’s what modified pigeon looks like:

Now back to basics. Push-ups and plank. I don’t really like doing push-ups, but, aside from swimming a couple of times a week, I don’t do much upper body stuff, and I need to. And planks, well, I’m learning to like planks – they’re good for developing my core, and I need that to run long distances well. (Thanks to blog reader Taryn in getting me back to planks!)

That’s it, folks. A longer post than usual, but I hope you found it interesting and helpful.

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5 comments

  1. I’ve just started my journey into barefoot running this week. I hit the treadmill last night for about 10 minutes and started getting a strange pain on the back/outside of my right knee. I have no idea what would cause this pain.

    I’ve only felt it once before, but on my other leg after a 10 mile run my Asics.

    Any idea what I might be dong wrong?

    1. My first guess would be that you need to stretch your IT band. The yoga pigeon pose I suggested can help with that, or a standard standing runner’s IT stretch. A hard roller – either a sport-specific one or an ordinary rolling pin – also works well.

  2. Hey! Great post on your stretching. I just wanted to add something for you. When you talked about your calf stretches, did you know that there are 2 calf muscles? One is typically a short distance sprinting muscle, and the other is used for long distance (the soleus). The way you speak of stretching, you’re stretching your gastroc (the sprinting one). And I’m assuming you run long distances right? To stretch your soleus, it’s the same way, but bend your knee. Gastrocnemius is a 2 joint muscle, it crosses both the ankle and the knee, that’s why you keep your knee straight when you stretch it. Soleus however is only a 1 joint muscle, and in this you need to bend your knee to hit it. You should feel it right deep at the bottom near your achilles.

    Just a thought as I figure you’re a long distance runner!

    Keep up the blogging, I love reading. You’re in my Google Reader! 🙂

    Taryn

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