Running rituals to adopt

While I love practicing in the studio, running gives me much needed cardio and an excuse to get outside.  All you need is a pair of running shoes...oh, and good knees, legs and back :)  It's a painful truth that the impact of running takes a big toll on our leg muscles, joints, hips and back.  What's the best way to preserve our bodies?  Warm 'em up and cool 'em down with some easy stretching and movements to counteract running wear and tear.

The most important thing to keep in mind: our bodies were meant to move in multiple directions.  For the most part, running is a repetitive body movement.  Your body craves and needs to move in all of the directions it was meant to move.  Not only front and back, but also side to side and twisting.  When your body doesn't get this variation in movement, it'll let you know in the form of aches and pains.

Below I highlight some movements/stretches you can do pre/mid/post run that primarily target the leg and hip muscles:

Top: Low lunge (with added heart/chest opener), Bottom: Quad Stretch with a twist

Top: Low lunge (with added heart/chest opener), Bottom: Quad Stretch with a twist

  • Low Lunge Psoas (front hip flexor) and Quad Stretch:
    • Set up: Start standing with feet butt sitting bones apart.  Step one leg back behind you and bring that knee down, lunge the front knee.  Be sure to be on the center of the knee cap.
      1. Psoas: take both hands on the lunged knee to start and engage the inner thighs and abs for balance.  Ensure a neutral pelvis by almost exaggerating a "tucked" pelvis.  Start to reach both hip bones forward.  Option to raise the arms for a heart/chest opening.
      2. Quad: keep one hand on the front lunged knee, and take the opposite hand, twist the spine and reach for the same-sided ankle behind you, bending your foot towards your butt.  Try to shift away from the knee cap, bringing the quad (spot right above the knee cap) as you bend the knee/bring the foot in towards your butt.   Make sure the hips are squared to the front, try not to arch your back (keep the pelvis tucked).  To intensify the stretch, reach the top of your extended thigh/hip towards the ground.
Yoga Tree Pose

Yoga Tree Pose

  • Yoga Tree and Standing Figure 4 Stretch:
    • Set up: Begin standing
    • Tree Pose (for inner thigh and groin): bring one knee up towards the chest, then take the knee of that raised leg and start to open the hip by reaching the knee away from the standing leg.  Press the bottom of the raised foot into either the calf muscle, or if you're more open, on the inside of the opposite thigh (never on the knee).  
    • Standing Figure 4 Stretch (for the piriformis): transition from tree pose into this stretch.  Take the lifted leg and place the foot onto the top of the opposite knee, creating a "4" with both legs.  Start to squat on the standing leg, opening the thigh away towards the ground.  (open hamstrings option: instead of squatting, try full bending over the legs, bringing the hands to the ground)
Lying leg stretches with strap assist (shown here: IT band stretch)

Lying leg stretches with strap assist (shown here: IT band stretch)

  • Lying leg stretches/circles with a long towel/yoga strap/Pilates therband (generally my cool-down):
    • Set up: Lie on your back and take a theraband/yoga strap around the arch of one foot, while the other leg should be either straight or knee bent, foot flat on the ground (tight hamstrings will require a bent knee).  *Feel both butt sitting bones and sacrum rooted on the ground for every exercise*
      1. Hamstring: bring the strapped leg straight up, toes towards the face, heels to the sky.
      2. Calves and ankles: bring the strap on the ball of the foot.  Point and then flex the foot, keep the knee straight.  Then roll the ankles in small circles in each direction.
      3. IT Band: bring the strapped straight leg and cross it over the body, toes towards the opposite shoulder, heels to the sky (if you start to feel it behind the knee, lessen the extension of the leg across the body).  Be sure to keep the sitz bones/both hips rooted down.
      4. Inner Thighs: bring the straight strapped leg away from the body.  To intensify the stretch, bring the leg away and towards the head.
      5. Leg Circles (for hip release and pelvic stability): keep your elbows rooted in the mat next to your sides.  Lower the leg, and like a pendulum swinging, open the leg around and back up.  The circle should only be as big as your hips can stay quiet and in place.

The Cyclist and Pilates

Cyclists amaze me.  More specifically, I'm talking about the road cyclists you see wearing that questionable spandex, whizzing up/down the hills as your car engine groans to crawl up the mountain next to them.  It's an impressive mixture of strength, endurance and mental toughness to be able to do what they do.

My husband, Tim, is one of these people.  He'll ride 70 miles with over 3,500 feet of climbing on a normal Saturday, and then come meet me for lunch back in the city (crazy, I know).

To keep Tim in shape for riding, we do Pilates and some yoga stretches and exercises to recuperate and strengthen his body.  We strategically focus on movements that help to counteract the strenuous repetition of cycling.  While a full session would normally consist of a lot of more, below are the top four things we focus on and some examples of the stretches/exercises we do to get him mountain ready in the studio:

  1. STRETCH THE MAJOR LEG MUSCLES: the quads, the hamstrings, the calves/achilles.  We do this on the reformer's leg straps and foot bar.  You can also do the same thing with a theraband/yoga strap around your foot's arch - one leg at a time, lying on your back.
  2. OPEN THOSE HIPS: our hip muscles help us to flex and extend our legs.  We focus on all of the major hip muscles, but we especially work to release the front hip flexors (especially the psoas muscle) responsible for the repeated forward bicycling motion to propel up the mountain.  (Many cyclists will complain about lower back pain which can often be attributed to this muscle that is attached to the lumbar spine).  We also work on giving the legs/hips circular motions that they don't get on the bike via leg circles on the reformer.
  3. MOVE THAT SPINE: riders are hunched over their bikes for hours at a time.  The spine was meant to not only forward bend, but back and side bend as well as twist.  We do some twisting and side bending movements to keep Tim's spine healthy.  We also do some back extensions via Pilates Swan/yoga cobra to open his chest and shoulders that hunch over during riding.
  4. ROLL IT OUT: if you can get a roller on it, you can roll it out.  We focus on rolling out the IT bands on the side of the thighs, the quads and the butt.  Roll to where it hurts and go slow - back and forth movements.
Hanging Tim's legs on the Pilates cadillac to release the front hip flexors that are tight and tend to grip in cyclists who use them to climb hills.

Hanging Tim's legs on the Pilates cadillac to release the front hip flexors that are tight and tend to grip in cyclists who use them to climb hills.

Upper Left: Leg circles to get some rotation and help open the hips; Upper Right: deep groin (inner thigh) stretch; Lower Left: single hamstring stretch, also once crossed over body we get the IT band; Lower Right: quad and psoas stretch

Upper Left: Leg circles to get some rotation and help open the hips; Upper Right: deep groin (inner thigh) stretch; Lower Left: single hamstring stretch, also once crossed over body we get the IT band; Lower Right: quad and psoas stretch

Top: Swan on the cadillac's push-through bar to open the chest and get some back extension in the upper back; Bottom: Swan/yoga Cobra done on a foam roller for the same effect

Top: Swan on the cadillac's push-through bar to open the chest and get some back extension in the upper back; Bottom: Swan/yoga Cobra done on a foam roller for the same effect