Building Effective Flexibility for Outdoor Running
An outdoor alternative to indoor cardio machine sessions is the always reliable run, but remember that for the lower body, impact from natural and man-made surfaces requires some pre-run preparation in the form of a stretching session. In fact, there are several benefits that can derive from a targeted stretch to the lower body muscles: increased physical efficiency and performance; decreased risk of injury; increased blood supply and nutrients to your joints; increased neuromuscular coordination; reduced muscular soreness and stiffness; better muscular balance and posture, and less risk of lower-back stress. Consider including any of these for various specific major muscle groups:
For the Hamstrings
Standing Leg-Up Hamstring Stretch – Function: To stretch the hamstrings at the rear of the thigh; hamstring muscles insert on the muscle, and stretching can relieve the tightness that otherwise develops within the muscle, contributing in turn to back dysfunction. Performance: Using a chair, bench or low wall, position the heel of one foot with the toe facing directly upward. From a fully erect position, bend forward to grasp the thigh or leg, as far as you can stretch comfortably forward. As you build flexibility, you can use a higher bench or bar and increase your forward reach.
For the Quadriceps
Standing Quad Stretch – Function: intense stretch to the quadriceps. Performance: Standing erect on one leg on a flat and stable surface, bring up the other leg behind you and squeeze it inward toward your butt. For balance, grasp a solid bar or surface with your other hand in front of you. You can increase the stretch by squeezing the glute muscle on the side of the quad being stretched.
For the Back, Sides, Gluteals
Standing Knee-to-Chest Stretch – Function: Provide a stretch to the gluteus maxiumus (Gluteals), also a secondary stretch benefit to the lower back. Performance: Standing on a flat surface, bring one knee up directly toward the chest and pull in using both hands. Hold the knee inward toward your torso as tightly but as comfortably as possible; with practice you will be able to tuck your knee in towards your midsection more easily.
Hip Flexor Stretch – Function: Also known as a “lunging stretch,” this provides stretch relief to the hip flexor muscles that run from the lower back to the front of the hip. Performance: From a fully erect standing position, take a full step forward while dropping down into a kneeling position on one knee, with hip slightly extended on the kneeling side. Hold in the bent position with the other leg fully extended straight behind you. Feel the stretch fully before repeating with the other foot.
For the Adductors and Groin
Squatting Leg-Out Adductor Stretch – Function: Provide a primary stretch to all the leg adductor muscles. Performance: Standing with legs wide apart, keep one leg straight and toes facing forward as you bend the other leg and turn your toes sideways. Lower your groin area and rest your hands on the bent knee or ground. As you build flexibility, increase intensity by lowering yourself even further toward the ground.
Seated Groin Stretch – Function: Targets all the muscles of the groin and inner thighs. Performance: in a seated, bent-knee position, with heels as close to your pelvis as possible, grasp the toes of both feet. Then change your grip to grasping your knees, and slowly push the knees apart to bring them as close to the floor as possible.
For the Calves
Calf Stretch – Function: To stretch and tone all the calf muscles at the rear lower leg. Performance: Facing a wall or high, solid surface (tree trunk, fence), position your hands on it at shoulder height. Then move your feet backward until your body from arms to legs are extended in a straight line. With the left leg bent, stretch the heel to the floor. Adjust the lower body position further back to intensify this stretch.
Other variations to standing exercises you can try for variety or for additional stability by being seated or lying down include: seated or lying hamstring stretches; lying quadriceps stretch, and lying knee-to-chest stretch Other stretches you can also include if you want a more extensive lower body workout might include hurdler stretches (for the hamstring and groin muscles) and standing side stretches (for the muscles near the waist).