Maintaining a healthy range of motion in your muscles, joints and tendons is vital to a runner’s life. Regular flexibility work reduces the incidence of aches, pain and injury due to muscle imbalance and tightness, and can increase the efficiency of running form and recovery by improving blood flow to the working muscles and range of motion in the joints. Whether you struggle for time, or just don’t like flexibility exercises, following this short and simple flexibility program can make a significant difference in your running performance without a huge time commitment.
1. Chest Stretch
Interlock your fingers behind your lower back. Relaxing your shoulders, keep your arms straight raise your hands up toward the ceiling until you feel a stretch in your chest and the front of the shoulders. You should feel this stretch in the chest and front of the shoulders.
2. Foam Roll – Iliotibial Band (ITB)
How to: Lie on your side and position the foam roll slightly lower than your hip. Put the top foot and hands on the floor for stability Slowly roll your body with short up and back motions on the side of your leg (Illiotibial Band) from just below the hip to just above the knee. Work your way slowly down and up the side of the leg 4-6 times (down and up = one time). If you get to sensitive spot, stop and relax into the foam roll for 5-10 seconds to release the tightness.
Bonus: Rotate to roll the outside region of your thigh (quad) just above your knee joint. This can often be tight, especially for women and aid in releasing tightness that can cause knee pain (like ITB tightness can).
3. Foam Roll – Calves
How to: Sit with your hands and one foot on the floor. Straighten one leg and position the foam roller under your calf. Slowly roll from just below the knee joint to just above the ankle with short, quick up and back motions 4-6 times.
Bonus: Rotate your foot so it is straight up, angled to the right and the left to hit all the regions in the calf muscle. If you hit a sensitive spot, stop and relax into the foam roller for 5-10 seconds and continue to roll to release the tightness.
4. Hip Stretch
Kneel on the floor with a mat under your knee and put your right foot forward so the knee is bent at 90 degrees and over the ankle. Relax your left leg and focus on curling your left hip up towards the ceiling.
Relax and hold for 20-30 seconds. You should feel this in your hip flexors or just above the front of your thigh. Keep your torso tall and press your hip forward and up towards the ceiling.
Bonus: When this gets easy, raise your arms above your head and reach for the sky.
5. Piriformis Stretch
This one may be unfamiliar to a lot of runners, but once you try it you’ll be hooked. Lie on your back and cross your right leg over the left leg. Pull both legs into your chest and hold. Repeat on the other leg.
Bonus: If you like this one, try another great hip stretch by putting your right foot on the floor and resting the left ankle just below the right knee and pull the right leg into your chest. Switch sides and repeat the stretch. Your hips will love you.
Simply weave these flexibility exercises at the end of your workouts when the muscles are warm. It’s easy to remember, a highly effective use of your time and will keep your running routine, and your body, balanced.