Hi everyone! How is your Monday going so far? Already over it or happy to tackle a new week?
As you know, I’ve had a variety of injuries over the past year. Many of the stretches that my physical therapist gave me to do work for both my glute injury and my plantar fasciitis. These are lower body stretches that focus on the hips (very tight on me), glutes, hamstrings, calves, and IT band.
I do these stretches after Every. Single. Workout. and whenever I’m feeling tight. These have helped in my recovery and keeping my injuries at bay. I mix up the order of the stretches, but generally try to not do two hip openers or bent over stretches in a row. I hold each stretch for around 20 seconds. On days I’m feeling extra tight, I’ll add in a second set of the stretch. I only illustrated one side, but you’ll want to do both to keep it even. 🙂
Quadriceps and hip stretch: I love to start with this one when I’ve done a bicycle workout because my quads are often the most sore and it opens up the front of my hip after sitting for so long. You should feel the stretch through the front of your left leg and in your psoas (front of the hip).
Here’s a trick I learned a long time ago from a nice man at the gym who saw me yanking back my leg: try to keep your stretching leg equal with your standing leg and instead of pulling back really hard, pull back, but then tense your quad and glute to push back against the pull. That will protect your knees. Also, be sure to keep your stretching leg directly under you and not out to the side, as that can also hurt the knee.
Hamstring stretch: There are many ways to stretch your hamstring, but this is the way my physical therapist taught me to do it. Put your foot up to whatever height you can comfortably. My hamstrings are actually quite loose (while my quads are tight–see the problem?), so I’m able to get my leg up pretty high. Then, gradually lean forward to where you can feel it, but don’t force it. If you’re flexible enough, you can also pull back on the top of your foot to get a calf stretch. Be sure not to hunch over as I am in the picture.
Speaking of calves…
Calf stretch: AKA “pushing through the wall.” (My husband jokes it looks like I’m trying to move around the walls of our house when I do this stretch.)
With both hands on the wall and your body positioned square with the wall (not looking to the side like me), put one foot a few feet in front of the other. Lean into the front foot by bending your knee, but not past 90 degrees. Keep your back heel on the ground and the leg straight. Remember, this is for your calf, not your hip, so put the focus of the stretch there. This is a must for anyone with plantar fasciitis!
Hip stretch: Another great one for tight hips! Find something elevated, usually at least two feet high, and place one of your feet on it. Then, keeping the stabilizing leg straight, lean forward into the stretch so that you feel it through the front of your hip while keeping the heel on the ground.
A great tip for this stretch is to also squeeze the glute of the stabilizing leg as you’re doing the stretch. You won’t believe the added stretch you’ll get through the hip. Sounds funny, but you’ll just have to trust me.
IT band stretch: The IT (iliotibial) band is a band of thick fascia that starts at your hip and goes all the way down the side of your leg where it is anchored to the outside of your knee. That is why people with IT band syndrome have pain on the outside of their knees: the tissue is so tight that it’s pulling the knee up. I never had IT band pain, but mine is extremely tight (remember how my physical therapist called it “grainy” and gave me aggressive Graston on it?). The IT band is notoriously hard to stretch, but this is the way I’ve found works best for me.
You start by placing one foot over the other. Let’s say you put your left foot over your right as I have in the mirror image above. You then want to lean your weight into your right hip while reaching both hands over to the left. You should feel a slight stretch down outside of your right leg. It’s a tough one and may take a few tries to get. If you’re not flexible enough to go to the ground, you can also stretch up and to the left side.
Glute and hip stretch: Aka the “figure four” stretch. Lie down on your back with your feet on the floor. As shown below, put the outside of your left ankle on your right leg, just above the knee, so that it would look like a the number four if your legs were straight. This may already be a stretch for some of you, so if it is, you can stay here. To get more of a stretch, put your hands behind your right leg and pull it off the ground toward you chest. You should feel the stretch through your entire left glute and side of your hip.
Piriformis stretch: The piriformis is a muscle in your glutes that can be hard to isolate when stretching. Many runners get piriformis syndrome, which is when the piriformis compresses or otherwise irritates the sciatic nerve, resulting in pain down the back of the leg.
This stretch looks similar to the one above, with some slight differences. While on your back, cross your left leg again as above. Then, instead of pulling your right leg toward you to bring up both legs in a figure four, grab only your left leg and pull it toward your opposite (right) shoulder. See the difference? Instead of the left knee going toward the left shoulder, you’re now bringing it to the right shoulder. You should feel the stretch through the middle of your glute.
I’ll often foam roll my IT band and glutes before doing the last three exercises, just to aid in my stretching. I was feeling pretty loose this day, so I skipped the rolling. I’ll also sometimes my arch and stretch my left foot if it’s feeling tight.
Do you have a stretch routine? Do you do any of the stretches above? What are some of your favorite stretches? Do you like stretching or do you just see it as an ends to a mean?