Do you love to run, but experience nagging soreness and muscle strains afterwards? I ran, jogged and sprinted through pain and discomfort for years until I studied anatomy and physiology in the process of becoming a personal trainer. Through that experience, I realized that there are two major muscle areas that become easily aggravated through running:
1. The hip flexor complex: A powerful group of muscles situated in the front and side of your hip, curving deep into the interior of your thigh and lower back.
2. Piriformis: The second area that is often the culprit in running pains is the small, muscle situated immediately below each buttock that, for many people, can be related to sciatic nerve pain.
To counteract running-related muscle tightness and strains, try these ten simple, versatile moves that can be done in a park, apartment or even a hotel room!
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1. Hip Flexor Stretch
Begin by standing. Step your right foot forward as if you are going to go into a lunge position, but instead of dipping your left knee down, keep your left leg straight (without locking your knee), and lean into the stretch across your left pelvis. Imagine that you are rotating your body towards the right side. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
2. Piriformis Stretch
Stack your weight onto your left foot, and bend your right leg, bringing your right knee up to your chest with your right heel against your right hip. Imagine that you are pulling your left hip down and your right hip up. “Hug” your knee to your chest for 30 seconds, and use a chair or rail for balance if necessary, then switch legs.
3. Hip Extensions
Still standing, place your weight on your left foot. Lift your right leg in a straight line behind you and hold for two breaths. Keep your hips level and your movements slow and controlled, so that you are not just kicking backwards. Repeat for 10 repetitions with right leg, and then 10 repetitions with left leg.
Move to your hands and knees, and push up to a plank position. Make sure that your buttocks are in line with the rest of your body by concentrating on keeping your hips low. Hold the plank for 30 seconds, and then relax for 30 seconds. Repeat three times.
5. Side Plank With Leg Lift
From plank position, slowly stack your left leg on top of your right leg as you put your weight onto your right hand and simultaneously turn your entire body to face left. From this side plank position, lift your left leg in a straight line five times, with slow and controlled movements. Turn back to plank, and then switch sides and repeat on the right side.
6. Alternate Arm/Leg Extensions
Move to your hands and knees. Extend your right arm and your left leg simultaneously, keeping your body stable and your arm and leg straight. Hold for five breaths, and then switch sides. That’s one repetition, complete 10 repetitions.
Lie on your back, bend your knees and place your feet on the ground in a comfortable position with knees together. Then, squeeze your glutes and raise your buttocks so that your body is in a straight diagonal line from your knees to your chest. Hold for five breaths, then lower. Do 10 repetitions.
When you are comfortable with bridge, turn your feet inward and place your hands overhead with your palms on the ground and your fingers pointed to your shoulders. Contract your abs and glutes, and push from your hands and your feet to lift your body into the air so that only your hands and your feet are touching the ground. Hold for five breaths, then lower. Do five repetitions.
9. Toe Taps
Remain on your back and raise your legs (with bent knees) so that your thighs create two right angles. It is very important for this exercise that your knees are not relaxing towards your chest. Lower one foot to gently touch the ground, and bring it back to the starting position with slow, controlled motion. Switch legs. That’s one rep. Do 10 repetitions.
10. Active Rest
Remain on your back as if you are going to do bridge, but space your feet shoulder width apart and let your knees rest against each other. Let gravity relax and quiet your hip flexor complex. Rest for five minutes.
Try these exercises three to four times a week to maximize results, and check in with your level of discomfort in three weeks or so. Finally, to enhance your pain-free running regimen, remember to take rest days! No amount of stretching and strengthening can compensate for overuse. Happy running!