Stretching is the Core

I read a lot about running and there is always a lot of talk about your core and I wondered if I was doing enough to help build mine.

I stretch well and always ensure I am warmed up before a run and have a cool down walk and stretch routine straight after I finish running.  For the first 18 months of running this has served me well.

After getting Sciatica in my back I was unable to run and it took me ages to get back on my feet – to walk, let alone to run.

My physiotherapist has done wonders to get me back in shape and now my back pain is a distant memory.

As you may recount from previous posts I have been busy undertaking new stretches and exercises to help with my running and to ensure that my legs and back are strong enough to withstand the rigours of running – for me this is the core exercise that was missing.

When I started running; rest days meant not doing anything – not any more.  Since the start of 2014 I have ensured that I have completed stretches or exercises (nearly) every day.  Completing a selection of stretches coupled with some exercises to help the muscle memory and to ensure that my legs and back are up to the task.

I am not planning any massive races or to be captain speedy but it is important to look after my body and I want to make sure I do the best I can for me.

I am not a physiotherapist or a doctor but I wanted to share the exercises and stretches that I now do and offer them to you as they may help you to.

STRETCHES – I do these after a run:

ITB Foam Roller 

  1. ImagePlace the foam roller directly under your legs and waist.
  2. Place your full bodyweight on the roller with your legs together.
  3. Pull your body back and forth slowly over the roller using your upper body. Imagine you are the rolling pin and the roller is the dough.
  4. Roll for 15 – 30 secs. Repeat on other leg.
  5. Make sure you concentrate on the ares that are sore and if you reach a sore spot slow down to ensure you get the roller on point to work the muscle affected.

For this I use my Trigger Point Grid Foam Roller.

Hip Flexor

  1. ImageFrom a kneeling position, bring the right foot forward making sure that the right knee is directly over the right ankle and the right hip is bent to about 90 degrees. Place both hands gently on the right thigh to help maintain a straight, tall spine.
  2. Pull your shoulders blades down and back without arching your back. Engage your abdominal/core muscles) to brace your spine. Keep your pelvis stable. (Do not allow one side to shift higher or lower than the other side.) Lean forward into your right hip while keeping your left knee pressed into the ground. Do not allow your pelvis to tip forward or your back to arch. To increase the stretch to the left hip flexors, squeeze and contract the glute muscles of your left hip.
  3. Hold the stretch position for 30 seconds at a time for a total of 2-5 repetitions. Try to deepen the stretch with each repetition. Keep your core braced to prevent losing the stretch. Complete all repetitions on one side before alternating to the other hip.

Glute stretch

Note this image isn’t accurate and I will explain why…

  1. ImageLie on your back with your legs flat to the floor.
  2. Raise your right leg across your body, bent at the knee so your right leg is over your left hip.
  3. Hold the leg between the  just above the ankle with your left hand and just below the knee with your right.
  4. Pull your leg towards you so you can feel a stretch in your flutes.
  5. Hold stretch for 30-45 secs
  6. Repeat with your other leg.I do not hold both legs up as in the photo as this puts too much strain on my back.

Gate stretch/pose

  1. ImageFrom a kneeling position, stretch your right leg out to the right, heel on the ground, foot flat, toes reaching to the floor.
  2. Inhale and lift your left arm up; exhale and lean your torso over the right leg. Rest your right hand on a block, the floor, or your shin.
  3. Reach through the left arm and hand with clear intention, noticing how this gesture increases the stretch in the left side of your body.
  4. Stay in pose for 30-45 secs then repeat on the other side.

Hamstring Stretch with Band

  1. Lie on your back with one leg extended above you, with the hip at ninety degrees. Keep the other leg flat on the floor.
  2. ImageLoop a belt, band, or rope over the ball of your foot. This will be your starting position.
  3. Pull on the belt to create tension in the calves and hamstrings, bringing your foot across the body in line with your belly button.
  4. Keep the leg straight and hold this stretch for 10-30 seconds, and repeat with the other leg.

Believe me if you have tight hamstrings this one will hurt when you first do it but it will get better I promise!

I started at 15 second intervals and built up otherwise there is too much pull in the lower back.

Additional stretch – Bottom Piriformis Stretch

Image

I find this one incredibly difficult – not cause of pain or inflexibility but purely because I have trouble mentally working out where my led should go!  If there’s one stretch that annoys me it’s this one – I do it occasionally but don;t beat myself up if I miss it out!

  1. Sit down on a mat or towel.
  2. Bring one knee forward up to the edge of the towel/mat
  3. Stretch the other leg back behind you.
  4. Align the foot of the bent leg with your knee (they should be perpendicular to the leg stretched behind you)
  5. Lean forward if you can.
  6. Hold for 15-30 secsGood luck!

REST DAYS

On rest days or when I am strapped for time I make sure I do at least the ITB Foam Roller, Hip Flexor, Glute Stretch and the Gate Stretch.

EXERCISES – completed on days when I am not running (2 or 3 times a week)

ImageAir Squats

  1. With your arms extended in front of you or overhead, squat until your bum is below your knees, then rise back up.
  2. Keep your knees behind your toes, your weight on your heels, and your back straight while you squat.
  3. Do 30-45 squats.

Side Squat Steps

  1. Stand on a step with your feet together, about one or two steps high and place your hands in front of your chest, hands together in a praying position.
  2. ImagePlace a step length-wise and start standing on top of it.
  3. Take one big step off the side of the step, plant your foot and perform a squat (exhale).
  4. As soon as the squat is complete, step back up onto the step and take a big step to the side of the step with the other foot for another squat.
  5. Continue alternating each leg until the desired number of repetitions is achieved.
  6. A variation of this (which I do) is to complete 15-30 reps on one side then do then turn around and do the same on the other side.

If you do not have a gym step block use something of similar height of the bottom step of a set of stairs – just make sure there are no rugs etc below you so that you do not slip.

Hip Extension with Band

  1. ImageTie one end of your resistance band around your left foot
  2. Lie on the floor with your arms should width apart and hold the band with your right hand – ensuring the band is between your legs.
  3. Keep the back straight as you extend your leg backwards.
  4. Repeat for 50+ lifts – this exercise is all about muscle memory and repetition will help build this and increase resistance and elasticity.
  5. Swap the band to the other foot/hand and do the same again.

Lateral Band Walk with Band

Image

Again the image is not accurate to how I have been told to do this – the band in the in the right place but I am standing upright and walking sideways, I am not crouching as in the photo.

  1. Place the band around your ankles.
  2. Spread your feet apart until band is taught.
  3. Side step to the right for as far as your legs will stretch
  4. Bring your other leg slowly towards your extended leg – ensuring you take your time and use the resistance in the band.
  5. Repeat for 1 – 7 minutes
  6. Maintain tension on the band for the entire 20 feet.  Then side step to the left.

Pillar Walk with Band

Again this image has the woman wearing two bands – for my exercise only one band is required which is tied around your ankles.

  1. mini-band-3-way-hip-step-juicebarStand upright with your feet facing forward, shoulder width apart
  2. Move one foot forward making sure you keep the foot straight
  3. Repeat with the other foot
  4. Continue for several steps (or until yu reach the end of the room) then walk backwards
  5. Ensuring you remain upright and your feet are facing forward at all times
  6. Repeat for 1 – 7 minutes

The two walking exercises look simple but it’s amazing how much resistance is in the bands and it can be very tough to begin with.  This is why you should start with a short exercise of a minute and gradually build up.

High Calf Raise with Bar/Ball

  1. Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 11.47.54Stand in front of a step of two or more steps high
  2. Hold a bar (broom handle or ball) out in front of you above your head and keep it there
  3. Place right leg on step
  4. Bend left leg at knee behind you
  5. Keep right leg bent and swing left leg up to your chest
  6. Maintain a straight back, hold the pose then bring left leg back behind you
  7. Repeat 5 times for beginners and build up to 15 times
  8. Repeat for the other leg

This takes a lot of concentration, some equipment, good balance and some room to achieve.  It will be difficult to begin with and the key is to make sure your back is straight throughout.  You’ll soon find out whether you have a weakness as you will wobble.

Don’t over do this one as it’s tough.

Bridging

  1. powerbridge1Lie on your back with your knees bent, placing your heels close to your butt. Keep your arms at your sides with palms down
  2. Squeeze your glutes and raise your hips off the floor to get into the bridge position – you’ll form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
  3. Hold the bridge position for 2 seconds, then lower your hips almost to the floor.
  4. powerbridge2Repeat for 10 secs
  5. Rest
  6. Complete 5 sets (5 x 10 secs)

Important

These exercises have been put together for me by a trained professional and they are designed to help me with my lower back problems and the tightness I have had in my Glutes and my Hamstrings.

I am sharing these exercises and stretches as they may help you with your running and if I can find time in the day to do these then there isn’t much excuse for someone else to do so either.

If you are not sure about the exercises then stop.  If things hurt or your are pushing yourself too far stop.  At all times listen to your body and do the exercises properly.  If you are not sure seek the advice of a medical professional.

Happy stretching!

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