The 5 Stretches Every Runner Should Know

By Dr. Robin Armstrong, Vancouver Chiropractor

*Only stretch when you are warm – either after your run or after a warm up of 5-10 minutes. Hold each stretch for at least thirty seconds, and always stretch both sides.*

The Gas Pedal

To stretch the calf muscles (gastrocnemius, soleus, tibialis posterior, flexor hallucis, and flexor digitorum), go to a wall. Lift your toes up and move your heel closer to the wall so that your fore foot is pressing into the wall like you press into a gas pedal, keeping your leg straight. Let the acceleration take hold and lean your body into the wall until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf. The gastocnemius muscle is the largest of the calf muscles, the closest to the surface and the only muscle to cross the knee. To take the gastrocnemius out of the equation and go deeper into the calf, bend your knee with your foot and body in the same position.

The Curler

In many of us, our hip flexor muscles (namely psoas major and minor, rectus femoris of the quadriceps, and sartorius) become quite tight due to all of the sitting during our days. If we are also runners, the hip flexors come into play with every stride as we bring one leg forward, and the other must extend back. If we have limitations in our hip flexors, we may have limitations in the length of our stride. To stretch the hip flexor group step forward into a lunge with one leg, allowing the rear leg to trail, imagining gliding along the ice as you throw your curling rock (my apologies to readers outside of Canada, for more information on what the heck I am talking about see Allow your pelvis to sink towards the earth but keep the hip points of your pelvis pointing forward.

Thread the Needle

In runners, the muscles of gluteus area (buttock) have a very important function. Since running requires you to repeatedly stand on one leg during the stride, the glute group provides stability to the hip joint and pelvis, enabling the pelvis to stay level and provide balance to your stride. Lying on your back with both knees bent, feet flat on the floor, pick up your left foot and cross it over the right thigh just below the knee (when looking at your thigh). Using your hands or a strap/belt/tie reach through the hole, like thread through a needle eye, wrapping around the right thigh and pull the thigh towards you. Keep your head relaxed on the earth and energetically (i.e. without using your hands) imagine your left hip opening and your shin moving towards perpendicular to your right thigh.

The ITB Curtsey

The Iliotibial Band (ITB) is a band of connective tissue that runs from your hip to your knee. It has a close relationship with the outside quadricep muscle of the thigh as well as the gluteus muscles of the hip. In runners, the ITB can come under tesion due to the repeated flexion and extension of the knee and hip, which can sometimes lead to friction between the ITB and the underlying muscles or bone. To lengthen the right ITB, begin your curtsey by stepping your right leg behind your left. Hitch your right hip out to the right to deepen the stretch. You may also incorporate a side stretch by reaching overhead with your right hand, away from your right hip, opening into the Quadratus Lumborum muscle of the trunk.

The Rubber Ankle

There are a number of muscles in the front and side of the shin that are involved in the running gait. As we run our foot moves from eversion (outward facing of the sole) to inversion (inward facing of the sole) as well as pronation (ankle shifting inward) to supination (ankle shifting outward). To stretch into the outside of the shin, sitting with legs extended, reach down from the inside of the foot and wrap your fingers around the outside of your foot. Using your hand, move the foot so that the sole is facing inward stretching into the outside of the shin. To add a stretch into the front of the shin, point the toes lengthening the muscles of the front compartment (tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum, extensor hallucis).

Happy Running! – From Dr. Armstrong, Kiem, Peter, Kelly, Dr. Adataya, and Francessca – your team at Qi Integrated Health.