The weather is warming and more of us are lacing up the running shoes to get out and enjoy the fresh air whilst accruing the benefits of running such as heart health and a trimmer waist line. Typically, many will start to feel the downside of running if you do not give your body the added care increased mileage requires.
Running is a great form of exercise, but it quickly adds up and creates stiffness if you are not addressing the mobility side of the equation. Typically, a runner will become stiff in the following areas
- Hips (especially piriformis)
- Shins and ankle (shin splints anyone!)
- Quadriceps and hip flexors (back ache!)
- Hamstrings (again back ache or decreased stride length)
All of these can either lead to physical niggles and injuries or a decreased performance. As stated above running soon adds up the mileage on the body, if you run 10K with a standard stride length of 70cm you will take fourteen thousand two hundred and eight five steps and that’s fourteen thousand repetitions making you tighter. If you do not combat this with some stretching or mobility work you will become tighter!
Fear not, one simple stretch can address all the above areas and is a gift to all runners who are short on time to improve flexibility through the hips, shins and thighs – enter the Bretzel stretch.
To perform the Bretzel stretch (ignore the strange name which is a combination of one of the first proponents of the stretch whose first name was Brett combined with the stretch resembling a pretzel) simply start off with something to rest your head on like a block or a rolled up towel, from here perform the following steps
- Lay down on your right side head resting on towel/block
- Left hand takes right foot just above the ankle on the foot or instep
- Right hand takes hold of left knee which initially should be bent
- Draw back with the left hand whilst drawing down with the right arm
- Rotate chest so both shoulders come down to the ground whilst head stays on block/towel
Typically hold this stretch for around thirty seconds to a minute.
If you struggle to take hold of the instep of the foot due to tight hip flexors (if you’re a runner this is likely) use a band or towel looped around the foot to draw it back as shown in the image below.
If you are flexible and wish to add some back of the thigh stretch into this, extend the left leg which will add another component to the stretch as shown in the next image.
Keeping mobile will not only help you stay niggle free but also work to improve your performance. As stated earlier, the average stride length is around 70cm, if you become more flexible you can potentially increase that stride length by a CM or two. For the same 10K run this equates to around two hundred strides less. Imagine how much faster you would be having to take two hundred less strides. Improving the force produced each stride will have a similar effect and improving your strength for running can have a greater impact, but that’s a whole separate topic unto itself.
If you are investing so much time running, invest in several minutes per day performing the Bretzel stretch, your hips, knees and ankles will thank you for it.
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