7 Great Stretches for Runners

I lied.

If you watch my Great Stretches for Runners video, you will very clearly hear me say this is a five to six minute routine. Yet, the total video is about 14 minutes long. How did that happen?

Well, aside from the introduction, I simply held the stretches longer that I’d planned. I wasn’t timing, just doing what felt right. Generally, you will want to hold static stretches about 10-30 seconds.  If you want to follow along with the video, you will probably be holding the stretches about 45 seconds. It’s still all good.

Stretch

Stretching can be a controversial topic, believe it or not. For years, we were told that stretching was vital, that we needed to be consistent, stretch before and after activity, that it would help prevent injuries. Then, we were told, no, there is really no evidence that stretching prevents injuries. And that static stretching before activity can inhibit performance, while dynamic stretching may help it. And even, though I can’t find a reference, which may tell you all you need to know about this statement’s veracity, that foam rolling can replace stretching.

Yet there is some evidence that regular static stretching can improve performance. And on a strictly subjective level, we tend to feel better when our bodies are strong and supple. So as a general rule, it is still a good idea to spend some time stretching at the end of your run.  In addition to your foam rolling (though that is a topic for another post).

7 Great Stretches for Runners

These are static stretches, which are perfect for after your run. Make sure that you warm up for at least 10 minutes before stretching.

Calf Stretch

How to do it: Stand, holding on to a chair or wall. Step back with your right leg, keeping your knee straight and your right heel pressed into the ground. Bend your left knee. Hold for 10-30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

Why it helps: Tight calves can lead to injuries such as shin splints, ankle pain, and plantar fasciitis.

Quadriceps Stretch

How to do it: Stand, holding onto a chair or wall if necessary for balance. Bend your right knee, grab your foot, and pull your heel in toward your buttocks. Stand straight, keeping your thighs and knees together.  Hold or 10-30 seconds. Repeat with the left leg.

Why it helps: It is important to have strong and flexible quads since these are the muscles that help lift your knees and increase your speed.

Hip Flexor Stretch

How to do it: Start from a kneeling position. Step forward with your right leg, so that your knee is bent to about 90 degrees. Placing your hands on your right thigh, press forward over the right leg, pushing your hips forward slightly. You should feel the stretch at the top of your left thigh. Hold for 10-30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

Why it helps: Many runners have tight hip flexors, caused by the small repetitive motion of running, and aggravated by weak glutes. Glute strengthening exercise are important too, as tight hip flexors lead to poor posture, and potentially hip and low back pain.

Hamstrings Stretch

How to do it: Lie on your back. Put a strap around the ball of your right foot and lift the leg up, keeping your knee straight if possible. Straighten your left leg on the mat. If you are very tight, you can bend your right knee slightly. Gently pull your leg toward you, holding for 10-30 seconds. Complete the IT Band stretch next. Then repeat both on the left leg.

Why it helps: Tight hamstrings can lead to back pain, cause poor posture, shorten your stride, and lead to pulled muscles.

 IT Band Stretch

How to do it: From the hamstrings stretch, take the strap in your left hand. Take your right arm out to the side (T-position). Keeping your knee straight, and your right hip pressed firmly into the ground, slowly lower the leg to the left. I’ll repeat, keep your right hip pressed into the ground, otherwise this stretch will not be as effective. Hold for 10-30 seconds, then repeat the sequence on the left side.

Why it helps: The Illiotibial (IT) band starts at the hip and runs down the outside of your leg. If it is tight, it can begin to rub on the outside of your kneecap, potentially leading to pain in your knee.

Hip Stretch

How to do it: Lie on your back with both knees bent. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Lift both legs, grabbing your left thigh and pull toward your chest. Use your right elbow to push gently on your right knee. Hold for 10-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Why it helps: Tight hips, common in runners, can lead to pain and injury. Every time you stride, you pull your hip forward, and every time your foot hits the ground, you abruptly put a stop to that motion. Flexible hips can make your running stride feel easier and more relaxed.

Piriformis Stretch

How to do it: Lie on your back with your left leg straight on the mat and your right leg elevated at a 90 degree angle and the knee bent at 90 degrees. Take your right arm out to the side (T-position). Use your left hand to gently bring your right knee toward the ground. Keep your right shoulder on the mat. Hold for 10-30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

Why it helps: If the piriformis becomes too tight, it can irritate the sciatic nerve, which can lead to glute, low back, and leg pain.

There are, of course, many different ways to stretch these particular muscles. If any of the above stretches cause you pain, you should try an alternative. Never stretch a muscle to the point of pain.

Do you stretch after your workout? Do you have a favorite stretch?

Thursday Thoughts: The Price of Racing

I was inspired to make this vlog after reading this post about the high cost of racing,  over on Marcia’s Healthy Slice, “How Much is Too Much?” In it Marcia discusses the rising cost of race registrations. That got a spirited conversation going in the comment section (including my own rant, which I am reproducing in the video).

Thursday Thoughts

Another post caught my attention this week, The $500 Marathon, from Health on the Run, discussing the plan the New York Roadrunner’s Club finally decided on to resolve the issues surrounding the cancellation of the 2012 New York City Marathon due to Hurricane Sandy. One of the options: they keep your money and your  receive a guaranteed spot in the 2013 or 2014 NYC Marathon for only, you’ve got it, $500 (or more if they choose to raise prices on either of those races).

Anyway, if you haven’t gathered my feelings from the tone of my writing, please enjoy the video.

What do you thing about race prices? Would you pay a (really) high price for a premium marathon?

Thursday Thoughts: On Training, New Mizuno Shoes, and Roadrunner Sports

You may know, if only by the name of my blog, that I live in the desert. That place that is as hot as hell in the summer, but beautifully warm and sunny in the winter. Where the Snowbirds come to spend their winters. Well, it has been cold in my desert lately. I know for those of you living in the snow this may sound like whining, but hear me, it was 26 freaking degrees this morning when I went for my run!

New Shoes 3

Thursday Thoughts

This was me bundled before the run. Underarmour base layer, polar layer, jacket, headband, tights, warmup pants. Oh, and heavy gloves.

Thursday Thoughts

Can you tell I’m wearing two pairs of running pants?

For my Thursday Thoughts vlog this week, I am rambling about running, training, new Mizuno shoes, and Roadrunner Sports, my favorite running store of all time. I bought my very first pair of running shoes from them. That was a long time ago.

 

New year, new shoes, new plan. Exciting!

New Shoes 2

It’s halfway through January. How are your goals shaping up?

Disclosure: I am a Roadrunner Sports affiliate and I might make a few cents if you order through the link above. All opinions are my own. And I did buy my first pair of running shoes from them.

 

Wednesday Workout: 22 Minute Runner’s Workout

Before I get to the fun stuff, I wanted to let you know that I’m going to start teaching a new class this year. I’ve been so inspired by bloggers like Tamara, Lindsay, Bex, and others who create challenging, high intensity workouts. I’ve been making my own workouts and videos since June, and I’ve really enjoyed challenging both my mind (to create them) and my body (to actually perform the moves). While I can be creative in the other classes that I teach, and certainly challenge the participants with total body, functional workouts, I feel that there is a market, even within the country club where I work, for people who want to kick it up a notch.

Starting this week, I will occasionally use Wednesday Workout as an outlet, a practice session if you will, for the class. You probably won’t notice much difference, as I plan for the workout to be challenging, functional, fast and fun. Stay tuned!

Today’s workout is designed with runners specifically in mind. If you’re not a runner, that’s okay, this is a total body functional workout with special focus on the core, legs, and glutes. Plus it’s quick, which appeals to runners, because they have better things to do. Like running.

After warming up for 5-10 minutes, perform the following exercises, in order, for 45 seconds each. Take 15 seconds to get into position for the next exercise. At the end each set, rest for a minute. Do a total of four sets. Alternate the standing leg on the single leg exercises on each set. Perform each exercise with proper form. Watch the video (which will guide you through one complete set) for tips on form.

1. Squat Jump: With feet shoulder width apart, squat down, keeping your spine long and your knees behind our toes. As you stand back up, jump straight up with as much force as possible. As soon as you land, continue the exercise by lowering into a squat.

2. Single Leg Deadlift: Holding dumbbells or a bar, stand on one leg with your knee very slightly bent. Keeping your spine long and neutral, bend at the hips, keeping the weights close to the legs as you do so. Bend as far as you can without rounding your spine, then engage your core, glute and leg muscles and stand back up. You will alternate legs in each set, for a total of two sets on each side.

3. Push Up to Side Plank: Start in a plank position with arms about shoulder width apart, making sure that your shoulders are right above your wrists. You can be on your toes or your knees. Do a push up, then lift one arm and turn your body into a side plank. Repeat the push up, then do a side plank on the other side.

4. Single Legged Squat: This is a great exercise to develop balanced strength in your legs and glutes. It is also quite difficult, so you may have to build progressively toward a complete single legged squat. Stand on one leg. You may extend the other leg in front of you (most challenging version), or bend the other leg at the knee behind you with the toes pointing toward the ground. Extend your arms out in front of you. Bend your standing leg into a squat position, keeping your spine long, chest up, and knees behind toes. Don’t allow your knee to fold inward or outward. Keep your pelvis in alignment. Stand back up. Variations: When you begin doing this exercise, you may want to put a high bench behind you as you squat. You can hold onto something (just make sure that you don’t pull yourself back up or twist your body out of alignment). You may also put the toes of the non-working leg on a bench behind you. Proper form is very important, so do the variation that is right for you. You will get stronger, you type “A”s and be able to do the hardest version soon enough!

5. Forearm Plank: Get into a plank position on your forearms. If you need, you may keep your knees on the ground. Make sure that your elbows are directly under your shoulders. You may add variations, like jumping jack legs, if you’d like.

Here’s the video:

Enjoy that minute of rest, then repeat for a total of four sets. Enjoy!

If you like my videos, perhaps you would like to subscribe to my You Tube channel.

Runners! Do you have a favorite strength exercise that you believe helps your running? Share!

Wednesday Workout: Putting the Functional in Fitness

In last week’s Wednesday Workout post, we discussed the definition of functional fitness and why it is so important to your physical well being. In a nutshell, functional exercises focus on doing real life movements in real life positions, so that your strength, balance, and stability translates to your real life. You exercise to teach all of your muscles to work together, so that when you sit, squat, lift, reach, and twist in real life situations, your body responds properly and you don’t injure yourself.

This week I’ve taken it a step further and created a functional workout that is challenging, fun, and fast. You will work just about every muscle in your body, not just the major ones. All the smaller muscles that work to stabilize and balance your movements will be working as well.

Warm up for 5-10 minutes before doing the workout. You’ll need dumbbells, a medicine ball, and a stability ball or chair. The workout will be done circuit style. Each exercise should be performed for 45 seconds, with about 15 seconds in between. At the end of the circuit, rest about a minute, then repeat the whole circuit 2-4 more times. Perform each movement with control and perfect form. Your abdominals should be contracted and your spine neutral.

A quick note about the following video. To be frank, it is a disaster. I use my iphone to take video, and Video Editor Free, an app I usually love, to edit. Last night, which would be the Wednesday in the Workout, I could not get the completed video to save, upload, or anything else. I finally went back into Video Editor, pulled out a clip (the deadlift with rows), and took out the transitions. I was finally able to upload it, but somehow in my editing, I switched a couple exercises around (the final exercise, which is supposed to be the seated twist, appears before the hip bridge with bicep curls). So it is what it is. I apologize for the sloppy work. I plan to re-record it when I can and take this ridiculously long paragraph out. In the meantime, use it to take a look at the exercise if you are unclear about how to perform it correctly.

Instructions for the Deadlift with a Row (which was edited out): Stand with feet about hip distance apart, knees straight but not locked. Hold your dumbbells at your side, palms facing back. Contract your abdominals, keep your spine long and neutral, and bend at the hips, to the point where your upper body is perpendicular to the ground (you can bend your knees slightly if you need to). Do not round your back. Hold that position, turn your palms to face in and bend your elbows into a row, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Slowly return your arms to the starting position, turn your palms to face the back, then straighten up to your starting position. Repeat for the set.

Looking for more functional workouts? Check these out:

Circuit Challenge
Core Challenge
Cross Country Circuit
Moonlight Beach Circuit

Do you have a favorite functional move or moves that you use in your workouts?

Wednesday Workout: Awesome Arms

Functional workouts are great. We do a lot of them here on Wednesday Workout. They work your entire body as a whole, to improve your fitness, strengthen your core, enhance your sport, prevent injury, and just make life more, well, do-able. Think of exercises like squats, push ups, burpees, and lunges, that work multiple muscles at once.

But sometimes it is useful and, well, fun, to put the spotlight on smaller exercises, really target individual muscle groups to specifically increase their strength and, let’s be honest, their appearance.

That’s what we’re doing today with this Awesome Arms workout. By doing these exercises which isolate your biceps, triceps, and deltoids, you can correct muscle imbalances, strengthen the individual muscles (which can improve your functional exercises), and get the cut you’ve been looking for.


Depending on your regular workout program, you can intersperse the Awesome Arms exercises into your regular mix, or do the whole Awesome Arm workout on its own once or twice a week. Remember to use weights that are heavy enough to allow 10-12 repetitions on the arm exercises, 12-15 reps on the shoulders. Move slowly and with good form.

And finally, remember that you can work your arms until they all off, but if you don’t eat right and burn some calories with some kind of cardio exercise, all that muscle tone will remain hidden.

What is your favorite arm-defining move?