Those who want to take running seriously, and avoid injury as the weather improves and the outdoor opportunities increase, should look to incorporate stretching and strength training in their preparations for race season.
“It’s easy to toss that out the window when your time is limited, but you need those to achieve the best performance,” said Hayley Sunshine, owner of Long + Lean Pilates (longandleanpilates.com) in the Elmwood Village. “Your muscles generate the greatest force when they are long and pliable. When muscles are locked in a shortened position (read: tight), they cannot function at their maximum potential. Plus lengthened muscle fibers allow for better joint mobility which leads to less chronic pain and injury.”
Sunshine recommended the following moves to bolster your runs.
1. Next level calf stretch
• Roll up a mat or towel and place it in front of a chair.
• Stand with the toes and balls of both feet on the rolled up mat and your heels on the ground.
• Keeping your knees straight, lean forward to place your hands on the chair. Be sure to keep both legs straight.
• As you hold the stretch, try to gently lift your tailbone and elongate your spine. Keep your head down and relaxed.
• Hold for 60 seconds. Try to do this at least once every day.
2. Cleaned-up quad stretch
You’ve seen this quad stretch before, but are you doing it correctly to really target your tight muscles?
• Make sure your pelvis stays neutral. Your pubic bone and hip bones must be lined up. Don’t let your pubic bone tilt back behind you.
• Line up your knees next to each other. Try to keep your stretching leg forward and in, not out to the side.
• This is the hardest one: grab your ankle instead of your foot. If you are holding your foot, you are actually stretching the top of the foot and taking away from your quad stretch. Can you grab your ankle? If not, try using a towel or yoga strap to wrap around your ankle and hold the stretch like that.
• Hold for 60 seconds on each side at least once every day.
3. Overhead side bend
How often do you lift your arms up over your head? If you work at a desk and run for exercise, the answer may be rarely if ever. You need to get your arms up over your head to stretch the chest and arms and get blood pumping through your upper body. Side bending helps open up the muscles between the ribs and expand your lung capacity to improve your breathing.
• Lift both arms up over your head and interlace the fingers.
• Reach your arms up to the ceiling and bend your upper body over to the right. As you do this take a nice deep inhale, expanding your ribs. Exhale to return your body upright.
• Repeat on the other side. Repeat as many times as you’d like as often as you’d like throughout the day and before and after your runs.
4. Pilates kneeling side leg lifts
You need strong glutes and balance to maintain efficiency when you run. Practice this sequence at least three times a week to protect your hips and knees, and improve your stride.
• Kneel on your right knee with your right hand on the ground beneath your right shoulder and your left leg extended out to the side, slightly behind your hip. Keep your hips and ribs lined up, chest open.
• Lift your left leg up to slightly above hip level without letting anything else in your body move or shift. Lower back down to tap the foot on the ground. That’s one rep. Repeat for 12 reps and finish with the leg lifted.
• Bend your left knee to a 90 degree angle with the ankle flexed.
• Without moving your hips, push your left leg behind you, keeping the knee bent like your stamping the wall behind you with your heel. Do 12 reps.
Repeat the sequence on the other side.
On the Web: Watch Hayley Sunshine demonstrate these exercises at video.buffalonews.com.