Self-care ideas for runners and weekend warriors
Now that the weather seems to have finally made up its mind to move into spring, we’re able to get back to the outdoor activities we’ve been itching for. For many, running is the activity of choice, others turn to weekend sports, while others fill their ‘outdoors’ time with yardwork and gardening.
No matter what you choose, you may find that your legs and hips are stiff and sore. This is especially true if you, like many of us, have been less active throughout the winter — your body needs time to get used to these new movements and strains. Making sure you take time to self-treat and stretch can make a big difference as your muscles adjust.
Last week, we talked about myofascial stretching and how it is different from ‘traditional’ stretching methods. Today, I’m going to share specific ideas for taking some familiar stretches and modifying them to be fascial techniques. (As always, consult with a medical professional if you have any concerns or questions.)
These four techniques are great for opening the hips and stretching the major muscle groups of the legs. Spending a few minutes with each of these can really help reduce soreness and improve fluid movement through the legs and hips. As we discussed last week, the important things to remember are to go into the stretch just until you begin to feel something, not pushing as far as you can go, and then to wait at that point for at least two minutes to allow the fascia to begin to lengthen and reorganize.
- Stairstep Calf Stretch. This is one of my personal favorites for tightness in the lower legs. Stand on a stair step, holding the railing for balance, and bring one foot back so that just the ball of the foot and the toes are on the step. Gently and slowly lower the heel of that foot just until you feel a sense of stretch or pull along the back of the calf, letting your body weight create the stretch. Hold here for two minutes, then switch foot positions and repeat with the other leg.
- Standing Quadriceps Stretch (often called the runner’s stretch). Grasp your ankle and gently bring your heel toward your thigh, just until you feel a light stretch or pull along the front of the thigh. Place your other hand on a table or wall for balance and hold for two minutes, then repeat with other leg. (If you have extreme difficulty with balancing for two minutes, you may still get some benefit from this stretch by practicing it lying face-down on a yoga mat.
- Piriformis Stretch. The piriformis is one of the external rotators of the hip, and is often involved in limitations to hip movement and sciatic-type pain. Lying on your back, with your head on a pillow if needed, bend one knee and use your opposite hand to gently bring that leg towards the opposite shoulder, just until a sense of stretch is felt in the glutes or posterior leg. Hold for two minutes, and repeat with the other leg.
- Lower Trunk Rotation. Although we often think about stretching front and back, the rotation of our hips and lower torso is frequently forgotten. This stretch is a great way to keep our lower bodies moving fluidly. Lying on your back (again, use a pillow under your head for comfort if needed), bring your knees together. Keeping the back flat, and the feet together, rotate to one side, just until you feel lengthening in the opposite side. If you need to, place a pillow under your knees for support so that you can soften into the stretch (this isn’t about how far you can drop your knees, but feeling that lengthening). Hold for at least two minutes, then repeat the rotation to the other side.
Remember, the key with all of these techniques is to ease slowly into the stretch just until you begin to feel a change in the soft tissue, which could be a sense of stretch, a tingle, or a line of pull. Don’t push to end range, but stay at that beginning point, waiting for at least two minutes to feel the fascia begin to melt and soften. These techniques should not hurt, although there may be an initial tenderness. If anything becomes painful as you go on, stop and consult with an athletic trainer or medical professional.