Exercises Tips

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For Total Abs, Think Rotation

Most runners know that strong core muscles are as important as strong quads, calves, and hamstrings.

But how do you build a stronger core? To truly strengthen your core muscles, add an element of rotation. There's no reason to give up your favorite form of crunches, but add a twist.

For example, when doing crunches on a fitness ball, rotate as you come up, raising your left elbow and shoulder and turning slightly to the right. Repeat 10 times, or alternate right and left for a total of 20 reps.


Easy Shoulder Opener

As if tight leg muscles weren't enough, runners often suffer from tight shoulders. Shoulders might not seem like the most important part of a runner's anatomy, but it is worth tuning in to your shoulders and giving them some extra attention now and then.

Here's why: If your shoulders are opend and loose, you'll be able to run more naturally and engage your arms and shoulders more effectively, so they can help you keep going in the later miles of the marathon.

Try this easy shoulder opener:

-Roll up a towel or yoga mat as tightly as possible so it forms a roll.

-Place the roll horizontally below your shoulder blades and lie on your back, feet straight in front of you and your arms relaxed.

-Stay in this position for at least a minute, and you should feel an openness in the front of your chest. That loosening might not seem like much, but you'll notic the difference, especially if you can stay in place for closer to 3 minutes.


Don't Underestimate Stretching Aids for Tight IT Bands

Most runners have seen stretching aids, such as foam rollers, foot rollers, or "the Stick" advertised online or at running expos. Don't reject these items out of hand. For runners who suffer from chronic tight spots, sometimes these stretching aids give you the extra help you need.

I have found that a large foam roller or the Stick is especially helpful for stretching the iliotibial band, which is the group of fibrous tissues that run down the outside of your thigh from hip to knee. The IT band helps stabilize the entire leg, and if it becomes stiff and tight, it can cause chronic knee pain.

If you have pain along the outside of your knee or thigh, try using the Stick or rolling on a foam roller before running to help loosen the IT band. If your pain persists, consider a visit to a sports massage therapist to break up the stubborn adhesions, and then maintain your looser IT band with regular stretching.

How can I stretch my quads without hurting my knees?

Protect Your Knees When Stretching Your Quads

To gently stretch your quadriceps (the large muscles of the thighs) and protect your knees, try a standing quad stretch.

  • Start by standing on the right foot and bending your left knee.
  • Reach back and grasp your left foot with your right hand. This technique keeps the knee bent at a more natural angle than if you grasp the left foot with the left hand, and you protect the knee from excessive stress.
  • Hold the stretch comfortably and count to 30.
  • Be sure to stand next to a wall or sturdy table, chair, or railing that you can hold for balance.
Strong quads are important for marathon runners because the quads support the knees and keep them stable, especially when running downhill.

How can I stretch my tight shoulders?

Arm Circles Help Your Shoulders Relax

The muscles in the upper back often become tense while running, especially when running long distances. You can reduce this tension by adding arm circles to your stretching routine.

  • Stand with your arms pointing straight out to either side.
  • Use both arms simultaneously and make 10 circles in one direction, then 10 circles in the other direction.
This simple exercise does help to relieve tension in the upper back, which can be especially tight for people who, when they are not training for a marathon, spend much of their time working at a computer.

What is the single best stretch for marathon runners?

Calf Stretching: No Bull

If you only do one running-related exercise, make it a calf stretch. Several common running injuries, including plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis, are exacerbated (if not caused) by tight calf muscles. My favorite calf stretch is the “wall push.”

  • Place your forearms or hands against a wall.
  • Bend one leg and place the foot of the bent leg flat on the floor.
  • Step the other leg straight back, place the back foot flat on the floor, and keep both feet pointing straight ahead.
  • Concentrate on bringing your hips towards the wall, while keeping your back foot flat on the floor.
  • You should feel a stretch in the calf of the back leg. Hold an easy stretch for a count of 30.
  • Don't bounce. If you bounce, you could strain your calf rather than stretch it.
  • For a slightly deeper stretch, raise the foot of your bent leg of the floor for a few seconds and place it back on the floor while you are counting to 30.
But wait, there's more. Before you switch to the opposite leg, bend the knee of the back leg and hold in an easy stretch for about 5 seconds. This move will stretch the soleus muscle, which is a muscle in the upper calf. Now you can repeat the stretch for the other leg.

How can I relieve my tired legs and feet?

Extreme Elevation: Legs Up Against The Wall

Elevation of an injured area is an important principle of first aid, but elevating your legs regularly is a restorative exercise for anyone and for marathoners in particular because we ask so much of our legs and feet. One of my high school running coaches told us to elevate our feet after practices now and then, and one of my yoga teachers periodically suggests that we place our legs against the wall for a few minutes at the end of the class. Here's how you do it:

  • Find a door or an empty patch of wall space. Lie on a blanket or towel if you are on a hard floor.
  • Lie flat on your back, and then lift your legs and rest your feet on the wall. If you can, scoot as close to the wall as possible so that your legs touch the wall, too, and the base of your lower back is 2-3 inches from the wall.
  • Stay in this position for at least 2-3 minutes, or as long as 10 minutes.
This simple exercise revitalizes your legs, and you should notice a feeling of lightness, especially if you can stay in the position for at least 5 minutes.

What is the IT band and how can I stretch it?

Give The IT Band A Hand

The iliotibial band, also known as the IT band, is a thick band of tissue that runs along the outside of each leg. The IT band helps keep the legs and knees stable as they move, and if it becomes inflamed or irritated, it can cause pain in the knees, hips, or outer thighs. A tight IT band is more vulnerable to irritation, and running long distances tends to make it tight. Keep your IT band happy with this stretch:

  • Stand up straight and cross one foot over the other.
  • Bend forward from the hips and reach your hands towards the floor.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor and don't move them, but engage your leg muscles as if you were trying to move your feet closer to each other. This action should engage the IT band along the outside of the back leg.
  • Hold for a count of 10, then relax, and engage the muscles again.
  • Stand up, cross the opposite leg over, and repeat on the other side.

How can I stretch the muscles in my feet?

Treat Your Feet To A Tennis Ball Roll

Rolling your foot across the top of a tennis ball is almost as good as a foot massage and it serves the same purpose of increasing the circulation and working out tight muscles in your feet. When you roll you're your foot over a tennis ball, you stretch the muscles on the bottoms of your feet, which can help prevent plantar fasciitis. And it feels good! For best results, stand up. You can do this exercise while seated, but you will be able to exert more direct pressure if you stand.

  • Place a tennis ball on the floor.
  • Hold onto a chair, table, or wall for support.
  • Place your foot on top of the ball and roll the ball up and down the length of your foot and from side to side. Don't worry if you feel some cracking or popping in the joints of your foot. That is normal, especially if you often wear tight-fitting shoes.
  • Roll your foot around on the ball for a minute or two, and then repeat the exercise with the other foot.
You can do this as often as you want, anytime your feet feel tired or tight.

How can I stretch my hips to help my running?

Getting Hip: Hip Stretches

Hip stretches are difficult for many runners because distance running promotes tight hips. You may not notice when your hips are tight, but you will notice when they are loose; you'll feel that your running stride is easier and more relaxed if you do some hip stretches. Hip stretches are especially helpful after a run, but do them before you run if that is more convenient, or do them in any spare moment.

  • Sit on the floor with the left knee bent and left foot flat on the floor.
  • Bend the right leg and place the right foot on top of the left knee; your right knee should point out to the right side.
  • Support yourself with your hands so you don't fall backwards. You should feel a stretch in the outer part of your hip.
  • Hold for a count of 10, then switch legs and repeat on the other side.

Why should I stretch?

Stretching: Try It, You'll Like It

Although findings from several sports medicine studies in recent years suggest that people who stretch are not significantly less likely to suffer sports injuries compared with people who don't stretch, my experience suggests that stretching doesn't hurt, it won't increase your risk of injury, and it feels good. You don't have to spend a lot of time stretching. A 5-10 minute stretching routine that includes stretching your calves, hips, quads, and hamstrings before you run can make for a more comfortable run.

Most runners recognize the benefits of some stretching as a way to release muscle tension prior to a workout. If you are stressed or tired or nervous before a run or a race, your muscles will be tense, and tense muscles are more easily injured than relaxed muscles. Your primary goal in stretching should be to release tension, and increasing your flexibility will be a positive side effect.

Some principles of stretching:

  • Never stretch to the point of pain. When you feel a stretch in a muscle, stop and hold it at that point.
  • Stretching is not a competitive sport and trying to stretch as far as the person next to you will only leave you with a pulled muscle and a sense of frustration.
  • Remember to breathe normally. Don't hold your breath while stretching.

What exercise will prevent a groin pull?

The Butterfly Stretch Relaxes The Groin

Nobody wants to suffer a groin pull, especially not a runner who is training for a marathon, because these injuries can take a long time to heal. Consistent but gentle stretching may reduce your chances of injury, and a simple butterfly stretch is part of my pre-run routine.

  • Sit on the floor and place the soles of your feet together.
  • Keep your feet as close to your body as possible.
  • If your hips are tight, your knees will be high; if you have flexible hips, your knees may come close to the floor.
  • Hold your ankles and bend forward from the waist.
  • Place your elbow against your inner thighs and push down gently as you bend forward to help move your knees toward the floor.
  • Remember : Do NOT stretch to the point of pain.

How can I stretch my tight shoulders to help my running?

Don't Forget Your Upper Body

Runners naturally focus on their legs and feet, but running tightens the muscles of the arms, back, and shoulders, too. Don't neglect these muscles. You want to have a full range of motion in your arms when running a marathon because even if you don't realize it, your upper body strength will help keep you going when you're tired.

Try this simple triceps stretch.

  • Reach your right arm overhead and then bend it at the elbow so your right hand reaches down towards your shoulder blades.
  • Reach up and grasp your right elbow with your left hand and gently pull your elbow down, creating a stretch in your triceps and upper shoulder.
  • Don't pull hard on your elbow; this is a gentle stretch.
  • Hold it while you count to 15.
  • Release your arms and repeat on the other side.

How can I stretch tight hamstrings?

Use Props To Help Stretch Tight Hamstrings

Runners tend to develop tight hamstrings (the large muscles on the backs of the legs) because these muscles do much of the work in distance running. There are many ways to stretch the hamstrings, but you only need to do one or two exercises during any single stretching routine. Try this hamstring exercise for a good hamstring stretch.

  • Start standing up and place the heel of one foot on a bench, chair, or table, at a height that lets you comfortably keep the raised leg straight. If you feel a strain, place your foot on something lower.
  • Keep your standing leg fairly straight, but don't lock your knee.
  • Keep your standing foot pointing straight ahead in a normal running or walking position.
  • Look straight ahead and slowly bend forward from the waist until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh.
  • Hold it for a count of 10, then relax, and try again. Remember:
  • Don't bounce; stretch gently and relax. Repeat with the other leg.
If standing on one leg makes you uncomfortable, you can stretch your hamstrings while sitting on the floor.

  • Start with one leg straight out in front of you.
  • Bend your other knee and place your foot against the inner thigh of the straight leg; your bent knee will drop towards the floor.
  • Reach forward and grasp your toes or foot if you can. If this is difficult, or impossible, wrap a towel or belt around the ball of your foot and use that to help pull your chest forward. Bend from the hips, not from the lower back.
  • Don't pull hard on the belt or towel; just use it as a guide.
  • Find a gentle feeling of stretch and hold for a count of 10 and relax.
  • Try the stretch a second time and you may find that you can comfortably stretch a bit more.
  • Repeat with the other leg.


Strong Feet Make Strong Runners

When you're considering running exercises, don't forget about the muscles in your feet. Strengthening foot muscles can help you run more effeciently and can help reduce your risk of foot problems such as plantar fasciitis.

Try this exercise to strengthen the foot muscles:

Sit on the edge of a chair and place a dish towel on the floor.

Keeping your heel flat on the floor, scrunch the dish towel with your toes. Re-straighten the towel as it gets bunched, and keep scrunching for 30 seconds. Repeat for the other foot.


Tips for Car Trips

Runners travel for business and pleasure, just like anyone else. If your travels confine you to the car for long periods, such as summer vacation trips with the family, try to fit some of these stretches into your rest stops:

-Calf stretch. Especially if you have been doing the driving, grab a wall or tree and stretch both calves while the car is filling with gas.

-Hamstring stretch. Waiting for your drink or snack order? Put your foot up on an empty chair and stretch your hamstring. Only have time for one leg? Make it your driving leg.

-Quad stretch. Waiting for the restroom? Use a wall for support and sneak in a quad stretch on each leg.

-Shoulder rolls. While walking back to the car, roll your shoulders to open up the chest before you get back behind the wheel again.


Twisty Abs On the Ball

I'm a big fan of the fitness ball--those large rubber balls that can be used for stretches, situps, and various strengthening exercises.

If you want to mix up your ab exercises with a fitness ball, try this move, especially if you don't like doing traditional crunches. You'll feel it!

-Start by lying on the floor with your legs in a V-shape and hold a large fitness ball between your feet. Your feet should be at approximately 9:00 and 3:00 positions.

-Concentrate on using your abs to turn the ball so your feet are at the 12:00 and 6:00 position. Count to 2 as you twist and return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.

-Alternate for a total of 10 times to start, and then work your way up to more sets as desired.

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Heidi Splete
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