4 Crazy Important Stretches for Runners: Hamstrings, hips, glutes, and psoas

For once my running cartoons will be used and I’m deathly serious. Stretching, Runners, is no joke. I used to HATE stretching, I’d do it begrudgingly, but ever since my little revelation in Boulder I’ve pulled a total 180.

Now it’s good too because I don’t have a little bit of guilt writing about and telling runners just how crucial stretching is. I’m practicing what I preach, yo.

Areas that rank most common across the board for running injuries and the areas that runners are notoriously tight in are: the hamstrings, glutes, hips and groin region, and the psoas. I took my cartoons and put together a quick stretching routine that you REALLY should be doing as much as possible. Like daily…I’m doing them daily, so now I can say, fully absolved of any lingering guilt, that you should do the same. ;)
[Click to enlarge so you can read text...but please respect a starving artist's work, you can always purchase prints, contact: cait@caitchock.com]
4 important stretches for runners
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More posts on flexibility HERE
And a post on WHY flexibility will make you faster HERE
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1) How often do you stretch? Be honest. ;)
2) What’s one of your tightest areas?
Hamstrings and adductors.
3) What’s something you kinda feel a bit of guilt about when you tell others to do it because you don’t always follow that advice yourself?

Runner Legs Are Complainers: 5 important ’tissues’ to avoid a total toddler-level tantrum

“If you’ve got an issue, here’s a tissue.” Certainly that fits with the ‘runner mentality’ for many things. Intervals hurt, well, they’re going to hurt until we finish all the repeats.

Long runs are…long. Yup, that’s how it goes. Just keep telling yourself to make it one more mile, one more mile, etc…until your done!

Then the legs start having their issues. They’ll start begging for their own tissues. The way to stave off some total toddler-level tantrums from the legs are to supply them their tissues on a consistent basis BEFORE their demands are too high.

Runner Bones

Runner bones are just, well, better bones. ;)


* Tissue 1: Warming the heck up. Don’t go into a workout with ‘cold’ legs. Don’t immediately blast like a bat out of he**, your legs like a little warning. “We’re going to workout now”…gradually lower into the pace and you’ll feel better, wind up running faster, and avoid the lactic acid booty-lock shuffle home.

* Tissue 2: Stretching. Yea, stretching is NEVER as much fun as running but if you want to run better you need to be loose. You’ve got to have the flexibility to open up your stride, you want as much range of motion as possible. So suck it up, get your stretching and yoga time in, your legs will thank you with faster times AND less injuries.

* Tissue 3: Massage. Look, I’ll be honest and say I’m as not-rich as the next person, so I self-massage regularly but I’m ALSO re-learning how imperative it is to see a professional massage therapist when I can. Running is pretty abusive on the body and to un-do some of that damage you need that massage work. Look at it as an investment in YOURSELF. Namely your sanity (my sanity hinges upon my endorphin fix) because the longer you run the more important it is to get that tissue work. Well, that is if you’d like to keep running for the rest of your life. [Side-note, I'll be doing another post on this later but my massage therapist of choice is Al Kupczak in Boulder, CO...Boulder Body Therapy. He's a massage GOD. Works on Olympians and us mortal runners alike.]
keep running
* Tissue 4: Proper pacing. I guess this more fittingly could be said as separating your easy and hard days. Run your easy days EASY. Scr*w the pace and run for effort, whatever effort that allows you to recover. Then, come your hard days you’ll have the bounce to go fast. Also recognize the difference between a workout and a race. Come race day you want to elevate to that next level, that’s tough to do if you’re redlining ever.single.hard.workout. Got it? Well, race day is also boosted by the mental energy and excitement, but still, don’t race all of your workouts, People, mmmmk?

* Tissue 5: Refuel. Said it zillions of times…hit that 30 minute post-workout recovery window. Get 20-25 grams of protein and some carbs into your system to jumpstart muscle recovery, repair, and regrowth. That way your legs will come back feeling better and stronger for your next run, your next workout, your next race.

The body of a runner is constantly crying and complaining. What a pain the butt, right? ;) Thankfully we’re mentally tough BUT we’ve also got to be smart enough to give our complaining legs and muscles their pre-emptive tissues to at least limit their tantrums.

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Running ‘tough’ is a yin-yang sort of thing, my last post is all about how being ‘tough’ isn’t always about running through the pain or pushing. Being smart and all that.
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1) Do you have a tissue to add?
2) How often do you see a professional massage therapist?
GO VISIT AL! ;)
3) How good are you at hitting the 30 minute refuel window?

Running is Repetitive, So Avoid Reinforcing Bad Habits

If I’m on an easy run I usually get something random stuck in my head. A phrase, a word, the same song lyric running a loop over and over until the run is over. It can sure drive a person mad when it’s of course a song you hate.
tired runner
Be it as it may, I usually can’t get the lyrics to most songs right anyways, so why not make them up? It all plays in time to the music, I mean that’s all we really care about, right? ;)

“(S)he’s going the distance…(S)he’s going for speeeeed!” Won’t lie, Cake you have my heart and I don’t care what music comes out until the day I die this will forever by my favorite song. It’s not about racecar driving either.

“Don’t you worry, don’t you worry, Child…the track has got a plan for you.” This is a newer one and it comes on the heels of two thoughts: 1) I need to get something other than radio in my car and 2) overplaying a song leads to psychosis. True fact.

Whatever it is looping through your brain to get you through those miles is just fine and dandy. Running couldn’t get any more repetitive…haha…but that’s got to be a part of the reason we love it! Some not so hot things that come with a repetitive motion:

1) Body Adaptation: The body is sneaky and starts to adapt, meaning if you’re running wonky, with bad form that just get ingrained in the body’s ‘muscle memory’. Keep practicing a bad habit and over time it will bite you in the bum. Probably literally.

2) Wandering Mind: Having random thoughts through easy runs is totally fine, a nice distraction. But you don’t want to be counting blades of grass during hard repeats at the track.
runner on track
How do we, as runners, combat these?

1) Muscle Memory Toolbox:
* Check your form, them start improving it. Post with a lot of info HERE.
* Find your muscle imbalances and work on improving them. Posts HERE and HERE.
* Body rehab in the way of stretching and massage. Posts HERE and HERE.
* Drills and strength work come hand in hand with form work. Check that out HERE.

2) Focused Mind Toolbox:
* When the pain sets in try and zone the heck out. Different from wandering mind and that’s explained HERE.
* Count your stride, breathing, and do a form-check as a means of distracting from the pain AND keeping your mind working WITH your body to get through those intervals.
* Mantras…here is where a short song lyric can help. ‘She’s going for speed’ or make-up your own positive affirmation like, ‘Smooth, strong, powerful’.
* Stay relaxed and don’t try too freaking hard. Crazy, but you can slow yourself down by just trying to force it. So stay relaxed as explained HERE.

Practicing both sets of tools during easy runs is productive, so try and cut that in between making up better lyrics to overly-played songs. Avoid psychosis…plus, don’t all runners just want to be better at, well, running? ;)

1) Name a tool that should be included in the muscle memory toolbox I didn’t include.

2) Name a tool that should be included in the focused mind toolbox I didn’t already name.

3) Favorite pump-up song? Or would you like to re-write some lyrics?
best running shirts

Running Patient Keeps You In the Sport and WILL Reward You…In Time ;)

Running is wrought with the ‘two steps forward, one step backward’ tests and trials. I’d call it logic, but let’s be honest, most runners lost all logic about 5,000 miles ago. ;)

Progress forward is HARD fought, once you’ve been running for awhile it then come in seconds and tenths rather than minutes. Each new PR ushers you into another realm, and in order to break through and run through to that next level it takes more work than before, and the cycle continues.
deck of runners

Eventually you’re working to improve by 1 or 2%, and by that time it takes more than just running harder and running faster. One must run harder and faster of course, but also SMARTER, be more ATTUNED, and then PATIENT.

All that patience sure does wear on a runner’s mindset. Typically we want those rewards, those PR’s NOW…but failing to be patient and look long term usually winds you up either 1) hurt or 2) limited.

* Hurt: By running harder and faster smartly that means allowing the body to recover between those hard and fast workouts. If you don’t recover on your easy days then you start greying the line between HARD and EASY. You might think that going harder more often will help, but in fact you wind up being too tired to really NAIL those hard workouts. A bunch of grey running just leads to a bunch of grey racing, not sharp, quality races and workouts. Well, that is if you don’t wind up injured first. I’ll include overtrained under the hurt category, because watching your times slip really does hurt too.

* Limited: By limited I mean you’re not looking at the BIG picture. To gain those ‘little’ percentages forward means you need to widen your scope beyond just running miles. It means having an actual PLAN, including core work, drills, strength work, stretching, injury prevention techniques, eating better...all those ‘extras’. Running SMARTER means being curious, and learning about all the other ways you can improve in addition to running harder and faster.
runner by tree
Distance Paradigm

The other thing about training is there needs to be a balance between just running MORE and running FASTER. Volume and consistency is important of course, but so is being able to get QUALITY out of those miles.

If you DO care about getting more PR’s (someone asked me, so I’ll explain that as Personal Record) then you need to have a speed component in all that running. Some runners fail to think about running more quality, and get lost in the competition to just run MORE. That’s okay, but if you want to run faster you’ve got to get used to running faster, make sense?

Looking long term and being PATIENT means you can’t have it all, all the time. Get your mileage up to a decent level, but from there focus on getting more QUALITY out of those miles. Speed workouts will hurt, duh, but it’s the kind of thing that us runners are a little crazy about and sickly enjoy. Well, enjoy after they are done.

Stepping forward and back, parallels the HARD and EASY days…let the paces step back so you can recover and then jump forward again.

Stepping forward and back also parallels this disgusting thing called an injury; they are unavoidable to even the most patient runner. Take them in stride, get through them and be prepared to step forward again.

Running steps forward every time you get a new PR or hit better times in your workouts; on the heels will be the times when you take steps back with bad races, off days, and horrendous blow-ups of workouts. They happen…don’t let them derail you…because if you are running SMARTLY you can’t ‘lose’ your fitness after just a bad race, dispute that mental thought, it’s a lie.

Runners often want those gains NOW. But sadly, those gains have to be earned…earned with hard freaking work and loads of patience.

1) Fill in the blanks: I recently took a step forward _________________ and was prepared to take a step backwards __________________________.

2) Fill in the blank: I really want to run faster NOW, but looking long term I recently incorporated __________________ to get faster, the payoffs may take a little time.

3) When an injury DOES crop up it tests my patience but I get through it and grow as a runner by ___________________________.
best running shirts

One Hot Mother Psoas. “Shut Your Runner Mouth!” ;)

It seems like the running community has been on fire recently, or maybe it’s just their psoas muscles that have been on fire. The psoas; yes, I just like writing and saying this term, try and rattle that one off five times fast.

dragon toasting bread

Truth be told I wanted this guy to burn that blasted elliptical! ;)


So why is it such a hot topic among the runners I’ve talked to as of late? The thing is, most runners don’t even know they have a psoas, or that they even have TWO, until they start getting these weird deep, stomach pains. Sometimes it’s lower back pains, or the pain is around the hip area. The fun that is sciatic can stem from the psoas, and even your knees or feet could be screaming at you thanks to the psoas twins and the imbalance chain of reactions.

The psoas is a very deep muscle attaching at your lower/mid spine and then running across the hip to insert at the top of your thigh (femur). While most of us are unaware of it, it is pivotal in our running; it is a major player in each and every time we lift our leg off the ground in stride. It works not only as a hip flexors but in holding proper form. Since we established it inserts at the spine, having a tight psoas can lead to hunching over; the same hunch in everyday life can lead to back problems. Through the wonder that is the body’s chain reaction of imbalances and weakness, a wonky psoas can lead to knee problems and others that you might not naturally assume stem from a deep, core muscle.

Source
What’s a runner to do?
Fist of all, know you have a psaos on each side of your torso(I’ll like you more if you say it five times fast) and then be aware that more than likely your’s are tight. Just the act of running tightens that psoas up and you’re probably not stretching it as much as you should. My best friend is a massage therapist to elite and mortal runners and he’s always telling me how no matter what, 99% of the time the second he digs into an athlete’s psoas they start squealing. The psoas is like a little slumbering bear, it can be super tight without you knowing if for a long time until it suddenly wakes up and you’re stuck with an injury.

Stretches, Exercises and Massage, Oh My!

* Core Work: Having a balanced and strong core will keep you ahead of the psoas game; I really like the pedestal core routine I talked about and demonstrated. When you do those reverse planks with the leg raises you’ll note that psoas is doing its work there! ;)

* Psoas Stretch: Get down on your knees, keep your right knee planted and then step your left foot in front of you so that the left thigh is parallel to the ground. Raise your right arm up over your head, slightly lean your torso back and begin twisting a few degrees to your left. You don’t need to twist much at all, but you want to feel a stretch deep in your right hip region. Hold here for at LEAST 20 seconds, preferably more and if you’re just sitting watching TV that is a perfect time to give your psoas some love. Be sure to repeat with the other hip.

* Massage: I did a whole article/post on self-massage techniques but before I get to it I need to remind you: self-massage works because we can’t all afford a pro all the time. However, they are pro’s for a reason so we need to be informed and SMART when we massage ourselves.
DON’T think more pain is always a better massage.
DON’T massage a muscle the day of a strain, pull or trauma. Give it at least a day to ‘cool’ off, you’ll only do more damage if you start digging in there.
DO gradually work into more pressure. Think of like how you warm-up before a hard workout.
DO know your limits. Sometimes you just need a pro, ’nuff said.
For the psoas, just lie straight back as you would before you zonk off to sleep, take your hand and gently knead the muscles, run from the top of the hip and up along your side. Work into adding more pressure and stop and pause, holding direct pressure, along the way. Don’t do more than 5 minutes at a time on each of your psoas muscles. And if you’re especially tender remember to ice afterwards for up to 15 minutes.

So have you been schooled in the psoas? I hope so. Because it’s better that this be a hot topic for you to read and learn about before your psoas becomes the hot, beastly demon screaming at you and forcing time off! ;)

1) Have you ever had psoas issues? Have you ever had anyone tell you that your psoas is tight?

2) Do you do much self-massage on yourself? Are you lucky enough to get in and see a pro very often?

3) What has been a hot issue you’ve noticed lots of runners talking about as of late?

Lights, Camera, Action…Core and Flexibility!! Video demonstrations for your running and entertainment

Turns out this runner is taking herself to Hollywood to become a movie star! If you believed me even for a second then I’m sorry. However, to make it up to you I will let you point at laugh at me here rather shortly.

Yesterday’s post was all about runners and their imbalances; why we all have them, where common ones occur and exercises that can help you strengthening your weaknesses. I talked about one of my very favorite core routines, the Pedestal Plank Routine, and today I’ve got a video demo in case my wordage wasn’t quite enough plank awesomeness.

I also stressed how important stretching and improving your flexibility are for your running; both in preventing injuries and helping with your form and efficiency. Below I’ve demonstrated a quick flexibility routine you can do in just a couple minutes. No excuse for not being able to cram some quick stretches into your day at some point, preferably right after you finish running and are nice a sweaty. [Sweaty and your muscles are still warmed up!]

Check it out…I sure am sporting one crazy cool shirt, no?!?!? ;) Get Chicking peeps!

These videos are part of the accompanying media that I did for my latest article up now at Competitor: Improve Your Running By Becoming a Better Athlete. I’d suggest you all mosey on over there and take a read for more ways you can improve your running and get you some nice and shiny PR’s! :)
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Also, someone all about improving core strength and flexibility for runners is Coach Jay Johnson and he was an excellent resource for the article…so go check him out too!
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1) Video demonstrations, are you guys fans? Would you like to see more? I won’t blame you if you say no though…

2) How good is your balance and core strength in doing those planks; are you able to do the leg raises or are you sticking with the isometric holding for now?

3) In terms of flexibility, when do you tend to sneak in your stretching time? Don’t say never…hehe.

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The Imbalanced Runner: Pinpoint your weaknesses and avoid injuries

Every runner is imbalanced. I’m not talking mentally (although we’ve all got our quirks!) but physically; your body isn’t two perfect mirror images between right and left, some muscles are naturally stronger than others, some areas tighter and others looser.
girl on track
For the ‘normal’ person that’s not such a huge deal, but when, as runners, we are demanding that our bodies carry us for miles and miles in the same repetitive motion, those imbalances become glaring weaknesses. Weaknesses not just in efficiency and translating to potentially lost time, but more importantly setting you up for injuries.

A runner’s imbalances are the slumbering volcanoes for injuries. Interestingly, the injuries can manifest in some tricky to diagnose ways, as in you may be having problems with your feet but the culprit is a weakness in your gluets. [Actually, there was an excellent piece in the September issue of Running Times on just this.]

The best way to deal with an injury is to be proactive before you’re actually hurt; you can’t stop them all but you can do your best. Think of runner upkeep and care like the safe sex talk you get in high school. ;)

Your imbalances are going to be different from your running friends, but many common points of weakness center around the core or near it:
* hips
* hamstrings
* glutes
* back
* ankles
[not near your core, but one for five aint bad...lol.]
run happy
When it comes to the hips, adductors, abductors and glutes it’s like a minefield. So many people have issues: tightness here, weakness there, slacker muscles making other muscles pick up the work, you name it. This has the trickle down effect to knee issues and tons of lower leg problems. That’s why improving flexibility in the hip region and strengthening those small, intrinsic muscles is so important.

Here are some quick exercises and stretches that you can do to try to bring some balance to your imbalance:

Core
* Planks and leg raises: I did a whole post on probably my all time favorite core routine, it takes the plank and kicks it up a notch. You get nearly every muscle engaged, if you do it right, and as you get more balanced you integrate leg raises which is giving you a double whammy on working those glutes and hamstrings. Please read this routine, your life will never be the same again. ;)

Glutes and Hamstrings:
* Back Bridge:
Lie on your back, pressing the small of your back flat to the floor to engage the core, knees bent in the air, feet on the ground a fair distance from your bum. Then squeeze your glutes and lift your butt into the air until your body from your knees to your shoulder-blades are in a straight line. Lower back down and repeat, do sets of 10-15.
* Hamstring Ball Roll: Lie with your back on the floor, arms at both sides, legs straight ahead and place your feet on top of an exercise ball. Lift your torso up so that only your shoulder blades are on the floor and arms at either side for support. Bring your knees to your chest by rolling the ball inward towards your bum and then roll back out. Repeat for sets of 10-15.
* Toe Touch Balance: Stand up and then balance on your left foot. Keep your left leg straight and reach down to your left foot leading with your right arm, going across your body. The trick here is to keep your balance without that right leg on the floor. Raise back up to the starting position and repeat 10 times. Then flip and balance on the right foot.

Mobility:
* Hip stretches -
I did a whole post on that; strengthening is one aspect and improving flexibility and mobility is another.
* Leg Swings - Here’s my post all about those.

Ankles:
* Pillow Balance: Ankles are prone to rolls and you want the small muscles around the ankle strong and supple. Balancing on one of those Bosu balls or a pillow can really improve your ankle strength. Start by standing on a pillow, balancing on one foot and hold it there for a minute or two…you’ll notice that it’s going to be easier on one side than it is on the other, so you’ll see where your imbalance is between right an left there. Then when you’ve got that try doing the above Toe Touch Balance exercise on the pillow.
* Calf Exercises: THIS post about calf raises applies here and also helps with Achilles issues.
angry runner injured
The argument of sanity aside, every runner is imbalanced in a way unique to them. Sometimes it takes a little hunting around, or an injury, for you to find your’s but if you do all you can to get as balanced as possible before an injury strikes both your running and your sanity will be better off. We all know how beastly those injured runners can be!

1) Do you know what some of your imbalances are? Do you work on them at all?

2) Do you stay pretty diligent about runner upkeep and care? Are you really good about stretching?

3) Have you gotten an injury that is due to some kind of imbalance you have? How did you figure out what the culprit was, did it take a lot of searching to solve the issue? Do you have any specific exercises/stretches you now do to make sure you don’t get re-injured?

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Hip Flexibility Drills: Why runners should channel those Latin dancers (Also the Road ID Winner)

While being quarantine to the elliptical I’ve made it my mission to watch every bad movie sequel possible; it’s been so long I’ve long ago burned through the good ones…hehe. Anyways, today on the agenda was ‘Dirty Dancing Havana Nights’…and what I do have to admit is that any time I see people who can actually dance it makes me wish I had just an OUNCE of rhythm or the ability to move in any way that could be considered dancing.
dancer
I run in a straight line…it’s a stretch to turn left. But dancers aren’t just coordinated they are also flexible, another glaring weakness of many runners. Getting back to the good old ‘Havana Nights,’ the hip area (dare I say the groin!) is a commonly overlooked area where runners get tight and never do anything about it. They may stretch out the quads, hamstrings, and calf muscles, do the foam roller on the IT band, but not many of them think to make sure they gain flexibility in the hip region.

But if you don’t work on this area not only will you not be able to salsa and flamenco, but if your hip area is too tight you’ll be limiting your ability to get full extension in your running stride. What this means is you’ll be short-changing yourself with a shorter stride and that translated over miles could mean losing out on precious time and finishing places.
puppet dancer
Here are some moves to regain some mobility in that hip area:

* Hip circles: We used to laugh doing this one in my running group, especially the guys doing them in public, but we’re runners so be awkward proudly! Standing with your feet about shoulder width apart, place your hands on your hips and then circle with your hips leading; really exaggerate the movement and get as much circumference as you can without moving your feet. Do 10 in the clockwise direction and then 10 in the counter-clockwise direction.

* 3 Way Leg-Lunges: Imagine you are standing on a giant clock, ahead of you is 12 and behind you is 6 o’clock; you are in the center where the hands originate. Start with both feet together, and then lunge your right leg directly in front of you to where the 12 would be; dip into the lunge and then back to center. Now, without moving your left foot, keep it planted, lunge with your right foot leading to where the 3 would be on the clock. As you dip down focus on opening up that hip area, and then lunge back to center. For the third lung, keep the left foot planted, and really work on opening up your hip by leading the lunge with your right leg to get as far past the 3 o’clock as you can. As you gain flexibility and range of motion see how close you can get to the 6 o’clock. This is tricky with balance as well; once you do three lunges with your right leg leading, switch to your left leg leading. You’ll note that often times one side of your hip is tighter than the other. Work up to doing a few sets on each leg.

* Donkey kicks:This one you will get down on all fours; your hands and knees. Take your right leg and keep it bent at the knee and draw it up under you and to your chest; then reverse the motion and swing it up and back and then raise the leg up into the air. Think about kicking towards the sky (you’ll also feel this working your butt muscles, which is good too) and then bring it back down to the starting position and repeat. You want it a slow, controlled movement not just letting momentum take over. Do a set of 10 for each leg.

hurdler

You're not doing the front leg, but imagine the trail leg clearing that hurdle.

* Standing Hurdler: Stand with your hands on a wall for support; face the wall and start with your feet together. Imagine that you have a hurdle just to the right of you, pick up your right leg and imagine it is the trail leg of a hurdler as they go over. Take your right leg and make a full, sweeping circular motion as you raise the leg, carry it out to the side to clear the imagined hurdle and then right up under your chest before repeating the same motion. Do a set of 10 with the right leg and then repeat the same idea but switching to your left leg going over the imagined hurdle.

* Leg Swings: I’ve talked about these HERE along with more dynamic flexibility drills; but you really can’t do enough of these leg swings in both planes. That’s across your body going left to right, and then in front of you and behind.

While we may never gain the flexibility of a true dancer, runners with looser hips will be able to get that full extension in their running stride and that, in addition to making you less injury prone, will put you in position to get faster…and who doesn’t like that?? ;)

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The winner of my Road ID giveaway was:
road id winner
Patty T, shoot me an email: captaincait@hotmail.com and we’ll get you all set up!
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1) Did you see either of the ‘Dirty Dancing’ movies? What is one of the worst sequels (or gosh, even third or fourth, etc. installments) that you’ve seen?

2) Do you see dancers, or gymnasts and ice skaters, and wish you could do some of their moves? Do you have a past of any of those arts/sports?

3) Have you even thought of working on your hip flexibility as a runner? Have you done any of the above exercises, or do you have some moves of your own that you do?

4) Do you tend to be a pretty flexible person and do you enjoy stretching and working on that?
No…and I own up to the fact I don’t like stretching, which is NOT good..lol.

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In My Mind I Dance Like a Swan — And Am Super Flexible

Well, at least I know where all the flexibility and coordination went in my family…

actually it’s never been a secret. So I spent the night watching my little sis’s dance show and while I may be biased, I’ll say she’s the bestest one out there. :) (pix from tonight are being stupid and not working at the moment…sorry)

I have always had that little girlie part of me lurking away any time ice skating or gymnastics is on; that part that sorta wished I had even one fiber of grace and the ability to do all those flippy things. Dance performances can pull that part out sometimes, but I know my place…I’ll cheer and live vicariously through the sis.

Running makes you tighter, combine that with my mom’s DNA and we have my situation…I’ve never once, not once, touched my toes while keeping my legs straight. I use the excuse that since I’m all legs my arms proportionately never stood a chance.

Excuses aside, I have been doing a little better in my pledge to do at least SOME stretching. I may not ever do splits while conscious but neglecting the problem is certainly doing me no favors and was like letting it fester. Reasons not to fester: increased chances of injury, limiting range of motion, poor form, by the time I’m 30 I’ll need a walker…

If you’re like me and don’t like to stretch or say you don’t have time, I’ll call you out, I did it to myself and here are some sneaky ways to get your stretch on: (PS-rembember it’s counterproductive to stretch cold muscles, so only do so after you’ve warmed up…mmmmk)

audrey hepburn

Let's cut to Audrey in Funny Face, shall we?

*Dynamic leg swings: if you only have a second, I’d pick these. Hold onto a pole, swing your left leg front to back, gradually getting higher each time. Repeat with right leg. Then do lateral leg swings, so across your torso. Do a few sets of 10.

*Covert stretch: make fun of me, but when I’m waiting to micro up something, I’ll use the minutes to alternate between some easy stretches. My hip flexors and psoas muscles are tight from my elliptical sessions. And people, you can use TV time to do a little you know what.

*Do it sweaty: really, I know there is no excuse to give a minute or two to stretching after my runs/core. I’m already nasty and lying on the floor won’t make me dirtier. The thing is, doing little bits at a time is actually better than planning on doing a huge chunk once a week. The time adds up, and how many people actually then stick to that ‘planned’ stretching time?

So while I’ll never do an Arabian back-whatever, I know I can muster a few leg swings…eh?

1) Are you good with stretching?

2) Have you ever done the splits?

3) Have you ever been a gymnast, dancer, ice skater…or the like?
I actually used to tap dance and that I wasn’t horrendous at.

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All About the IT Band — Regular Upkeep to Avoid Troubles

It’s IT. The Illiotibial Band runs along the outside of your thigh, from the top of your hip (the iliac crest, that bony ridge) and down to your knee. With runners the IT Band is a common malady and I’ll go out on a limb and say that yours is probably tight unless you’ve been working on it.

girl kicking

Kick IT Band issues to the curb with regular maintenance! ;)


What does ‘working on it’ mean? Diligent stretching (we all know how good I am at that!) and breaking up the knots. One of the best ways to focus on the latter is to use the foam roller; I’m going to warn you that if you haven’t done this before it’s going to be pretty uncomfortable and maybe even make you want to curl up and cry…so bring a tissue. ;)

To use the foam roller on the IT Band, lie on your side, prop yourself up with your elbow and position the roller just under your hip. Now, move your body forward so that the roller works itself down on the outside of your thigh and stop when you come to your knee.

Roll in a gradual, slow motion, and then when you come to your knee reverse directions back up to your hip. You will adjust the amount of tension by applying more or less of your body weight onto the roller. If you’re new at this your IT Band will probably be tender and you might not even need to apply that much weight before you feel it.

When you come to a particularly sore spot, pause and hold it on the roller. This is called applying direct pressure and as you hold it gradually start adding more of your weight onto the spot, this will help break up the knot. Only hold it there for about a minute and then do short rolls back and forth over the area to further help release the knot.

You may come across quite a few knots and you won’t be able to break all of them up in a single self-massage session either. This is something that you should think of as maintenance, like you do for your car; you only want to target a particular muscle or tendon for up to 15 minutes at a time. The best way to go about it is to sneak in short sessions after your run or while you’re watching TV, but on a continual basis instead of ignoring it and then going crazy on the roller for an hour once a month.

After a few days/weeks of consistent rolling (and only go to the point of uncomfort, yes it will be tender and sore but you don’t want to go to unbearable pain levels because then you’ll just end up doing more damage than good.) you’ll see results and foam rolling across that IT Band will start to be less and less of a torturous thought.

cupid

Try to love the foam roller...really, it's not a torture contraption. :)


The other way to keep your IT Band in check is with stretching. Two of the best IT Band stretches:

  • Sit on the floor with your palms flat on the floor a few inches behind your bum; bend your knees up and place the soles of your feet flat on the floor in front your bum. Take your left foot and lie your left ankle across your right knee; you’ll then let your knee drop towards the floor, you’ll be rotating at the hip and be in a sort of half-butterfly position. Hold the stretch for at least 25 seconds and gradually try to get your knee closer to the ground. Repeat with the other leg.
  • This time, take your left leg, bent at the knee and lay it in front of you. Take your right leg, straighten it as best you can and let if trail behind you. You’ll be sort of in a splits position, except your front leg is bent. And if you’re me there is no way you could actually do the splits, so you might need to just drop your knee, bend your torso forward, and use your arms for support. Regardless, you want to feel the stretch in the outside of your hip area, so lean forward and slightly to the left as you hold this stretch. Repeat with the right leg in front.

The IT Band, once irritated can be a chronic and annoying bugger to deal with so if it’s not causing you problems yet, remember that the best way to avoid an injury as to be proactive!

If you are currently suffering from IT Band issues, stretching and gentle foam rolling is my advice. The only difference is that I caution you NOT to over-do it. You don’t want to be massaging it too much (ie: more than 15 minutes once a day) and you don’t want to be going past the point of uncomfort; do this and you’ll only cause more inflammation to the tissues. Stretching, follow the same rules, go to just the point of slight uncomfort and the best way to stretch is to hold it for a minute or two and just go a little deeper over time as the muscle relaxes. Then, once you’re done ice is your friend! Finally, be smart and it’s better to take a shorter break sooner rather than be forced into a longer one later; if you shouldn’t be running because of an IT Band injury don’t underestimate the power of cross-training.

Sorry to say it again, but I will….check out the December issue of Running Times because I’ve written an article that is all about self-massage and there is more where this came from in it. ☺

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This post was inspired by one awesome Jen @ Run For Anna, who you should go check out because she is training for her first marathon and running for one INSPIRING cause!! You have to read up on her story, she is truly doing something wonderful with each mile she puts it!
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1) Have you ever used the foam roller?
Yup…and it’s made me feel like a weenie at times…but the time on it are for a good cause I tell myself!
2) Have you ever had IT Band issues?
Yes again, hence the foam rolling.
3) Who raced this weekend?!

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