It would be impossible to stretch every muscle in the body using only thirteen stretches. The stretches outlined below cover the most important muscles used for walking and jogging. We suggest doing them after your walk or run. You can also do them any other spare time you have.
The routine starts on the floor so you should have a thick carpet or large thick mat to work on. You’ll also need several props, including a sofa for lower back support in the sitting position, a counter top to lean against in the standing position, and some pillows to sit on or use in other ways.
Each of the following stretching exercises consists of a starting position, a mental focus and a subtle stretching movement.
13 Great Stretching Exercises for Runners
Start: If you are not able to sit cross-legged comfortably with a straight back, either support your lower back with a piece of furniture or raise your rump on pillows so you can relax your groin.
Focus: Relax your legs from the groin to the knees.
Motion: Let gravity work to lower your knees.
Change the forward leg occasionally and repeat the stretch.
Start: From the same sitting position as #1, put the soles of your feet together with a comfortable distance from your body. Hands on your knees.
Focus: The closer you bring your feet to your groin, the deeper the stretch. Work for the right amount of stretch.
Motion: Let gravity work to lower your knees. Add the weight of your hands.
Start: From the same sitting position as #1, extend your legs until they are flat in front of you. relax your legs by shaking them up and down from the knees. Lock your knees, straighten your back, and bend your toes back slowly and release. Repeat with back and toes.
Focus: Work to ease the discomfort behind your knees before you try to place your chest on your knees.
Motion: As your leg muscles relax, your lower back straightens, and your toes come back farther.
Outer Rump Stretch:
Start: Separate from the furniture you were using for support, fold both legs to the right with your knees bent 45 to 90 degrees and your right knee against the bottom of your left foot. Support yourself with your arms. Lower your chest towards the left knee until you feel the stretch in your left rump.
Focus: Straighten your back and tilt your hips back for a deeper stretch.
Motion: Your chest drops progressively towards your knee.
Fold both legs to the left and repeat.
Inner Thigh Stretch:
Start: Lie down on your back with your legs and body straight. Bring one foot back beside your hip with your instep flat on the ground. Hold your foot in place with your hand on your ankle.
Focus: Relax the muscles holding the knee up.
Motion: Let gravity lower your knee, occasionally pressing down momentarily and releasing.
Repeat with other foot.
Neck and Torso Stretch:
Start (1): Lie on your stomach with your knees together, your arms at your side, and your head turned to the left. After a few moments, turn your head to the right, and repeat several times.
Focus: Work to release the tension in your neck from one rotation to the next.
Motion: Side of head lies flatter on the ground.
Start (2): Straighten your head and bring your hands up for support under your chin or forehead.
Focus: Relax upper body but be aware of lower back discomfort.
Motion: Neck sinks, upper back, and shoulders sink towards the ground.
Start (3): Rise up on your elbows and raise your head to shoulder level or above.
Focus: Avoid lower back discomfort by controlling abdomen muscles.
Motion: Lower back sinks as torso muscles relax.
Each of the following is a more progressive level.
Start (1): Lie on your stomach with your knees together. Straighten your head and bring your hands up for support under your chin or forehead. Raise your lower legs towards a vertical position.
Focus: Press your hips to the ground and avoid lower back discomfort by adjusting the position of your lower legs. Point and flex your feet several times during the stretch.
Motion: Your hips gradually settle on the ground without your having to press them there.
Start (2): Arms beside your body and your chin to the left shoulder. Bring your left lower leg back and grab your left ankle with your left hand, lifting your left shoulder slightly in the process. Then grab your left wrist with your right hand.
Focus: Press your left hip to the ground and avoid lower back discomfort.
Motion: Your hip gradually settles on the ground without your having to press it there.
Repeat this exercise with your right side.
Start (3): Holding your head straight and slightly off the ground, bring both lower legs back and grab each ankle with the corresponding hand. Press hips to the ground repeatedly.
Focus: Work for progressively more strength to hold up your head and shoulders. You should feel progressively less low back discomfort doing the exercise.
Motion: Head and shoulders rise, and hips drop.
Stretch Bottoms of Feet:
Start: From the previous position on stomach, push up on all fours. Sit back on your heels with your toes curled under.
Focus: Keep feet straight and work to stretch all toes equally.
Motion: Toes curl flatter on the ground.
Lower Back and Quad Stretch:
Start (1): From the previous all-fours position and the weight mostly on your knees, straighten your toes and place the tops of both feet flat on the floor. Gradually sit back on your haunches until your back is vertical. (If you can’t sit back all the way because of knee stiffness, then play with the stretch to the limit of your flexibility before moving to phase 2.)
Focus: Avoid joint pain in your knees and ankles.
Motion: You’ll settle onto your haunches and gradually your butt will slip between your lower legs to the floor. Use a pillow between your legs to support your butt while you are making this transition.
Start (2): From the previous vertical position on your haunches, lean forward from your waist until your chest is on your knees. If you feel discomfort in your hips, try placing a pillow between your thighs and torso.
Focus: Relax back, your arms and shoulders.
Motion: Your spine curves lower towards the floor.
Start: With top of right foot flat on the ground, bring your left heel back next to your butt. Hug your knee next to your chest and keep your left foot next to the right leg.
Focus: Minimize discomfort in the various joints involved in this complex exercise.
Motion: Lower leg bends forward towards the foot.
Repeat for other foot.
To stretch both calves at the same time, Start (1): Stand several feet from the wall (counter, tabletop, or fence). Lean into the wall with your legs straight and your knees locked.
Focus: Keep both feet flat on the ground and pointed straight ahead.
Motion: Your legs bend slowly towards your feet.
To stretch both calves separately, Start (2): Stand several feet from the wall (counter, tabletop, or fence). Lean into the wall with one leg straight and that knee locked. (The other leg can be held relaxed.)
Focus: With the leg being stretched, keep the foot flat on the ground and pointed straight ahead.
Motion: Your leg bends slowly towards your foot.
Standing Inner Thigh Stretch:
Start: Stand a few feet from a counter (tabletop or fence). With your feet two and a half to four feet apart, bend over from your hips until you feel a stretch in the back of your upper legs. Shift your hips to one side.
Focus: Feel a stretch in the groin and inner thigh of the leg being stretched.
Motion: You’ll feel your hips shift farther to one side or the other.
Shift your hips to the other side.
Outer Hip Stretch:
Start: Stand up straight, reach straight up with your arms. Lean to one side.
Focus: Don’t twist your torso as you lean, but keep it facing straight ahead.
Motion: You lean farther to the side as you relax.
Lean to the other side.
Most runners know that amazing feeling when you become so completely absorbed in your run that it feels effortless. Itss those times when an hour feels like 10 minutes, you don’t have a single worry and you have a stupid grin on your face. This is flow – the state originally identified by researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a state of complete absorption in one’s activity, in which “every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one.”
Flow has been shown to boost not only creativity and productivity, but also athletic performance. It has also been found to increase overall quality of life – people who experience flow more frequently have been shown to be happier overall and exhibit higher concentration, higher self-esteem and even better health.
In order to get into flow, you must be “intrinsically motivated” to be running (i.e. not feel that you are required to do it by anyone or anything); it must be challenging but not too difficult, you should feel as though you are in control and you must receive immediate feedback throughout the activity.
Here are some tips for switching on and prolonging flow during your workouts:
- Train consistently: Potentially the most important factor in achieving flow is having your task be challenging enough for your skill level (but not too challenging). The more consistently you train, the easier it will be for you to identify your strengths and challenges are as a runner, and thus to know how to adjust your training appropriately. It will also be easier for you to know what kinds of tasks are enjoyable for you so that you can go out for the run without feeling like you have to. This will contribute to that ‘intrinsic motivation’ factor.
- Set your goals wisely: Having clear goals is another important factor that helps to get into the flow state. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every time you go for a run, you have to be training for your next race PR. But it does mean that you should leave the house with a concrete goal for your training session – whether that goal is to run a certain tempo or simply to capture a beautiful sunset photo.
- Stay present. The best way to get into flow and stay there longer is to pay attention to clear and immediate feedback and adjust accordingly. This means listening to your body carefully and keeping focus on how you feel. If you feel stressed, winded, or strained in any way, then the challenge of your workout is exceeding your current ability, and you should dial it back. If, on the other hand, you feel bored, your mind is wandering to thoughts of work or day-to-day minutia, or you don’t feel like you’re working out at all, that’s an indication that your skill level exceeds the challenge of this workout, and you should kick things up a notch. The best way to train this body focus is by practicing regular meditation, whether seated or running.
- Stay positive. If you get ‘kicked out’ of flow, the best way to restore it is through relaxation and positive thinking. That means silencing the inner critic in your head and focusing on what you’re enjoying in your workout.
- Do something new, different, or scary. Another potential contributor to flow state is one often seen in extreme sports: the element of risk. This doesn’t mean you have to go running along the side of a cliff; simply doing a task differently from the way you normally do it can help increase your level of focus, interest, and attention on the task, which can help you to get into flow faster. This is an instance where it can be helpful to set goals that scare you.
- Listen to music. A final ‘hack’ that is frequently used by athletes is one you likely already employ – listen to music that makes you happy, and that helps you set your favorite pace. Music has been shown to enhance flow and boost performance in athletes. In fact, music and performance researcher Dr. Costas Karageorghis has said that “music can be thought of as a type of legal performance-enhancing drug” precisely because it helps athletes to get into flow, reduce unpleasant thoughts, boost concentration and increase positive emotions.
The best thing about flow is that absolutely anyone and everyone can experience it, and it’s even easier for regular runners than for non-athletes. Do you have any favorite tricks for getting into, and staying in, “the zone”?
This is for people who may have failed at making the transition from walking to jogging previously. If jogging has always been difficult for you, it’s not necessarily that it must be that way. You may be simply out of shape.
When you are out of shape, you can hear your breathing even at a painfully slow pace. The problem isn’t in your lungs, it’s in your leg muscles. They can’t supply enough energy for jogging with oxygen. As a result, your heart rate rises, you can hear your breathing and the exertion becomes uncomfortable.
A lot of women have husbands that tell them they should hear their breathing, and jogging should be uncomfortable. Usually, that’s the way they learned to run, therefore, that’s the way you should learn to run. If you are normal, however, you are not into pain. Painful exercise is a burdensome exercise. And your husband’s advice notwithstanding, you are not going to continue doing it if you are not enjoying it.
Your first goal should be to create a regimen you’ll want to continue. That means being able to enjoy the activity, or at least be satisfied with it. Mostly that means going slowly enough so that the activity feels comfortable. This may be difficult to accept at first, but if jogging is uncomfortable for you, maybe you should stick with walking. A brisk walk is a great exercise, even if it isn’t painful.
The good news is that your capacity for walking can grow quickly. Even novice walkers can prepare for a marathon in a few months. As you get in shape, you’ll be able to walk at a faster pace for a longer time. When you can walk for an hour or two without feeling greatly fatigued, or without needing a nap because you feel weary or exhausted afterward, you know you are in shape to take the next step towards being able to jog.
Most novice joggers try to jog at a running pace. This is a major mistake because slow jogging is already a level above walking. If you try to fast-jog or run, you take your effort up two levels, which is usually more than your body can handle initially.
How to transition from Walking to Jogging
You need to control your pace so you can make the initial transition from walking to jogging. Find yourself a partner who is at your level of ability. The two of you will trade off walking and jogging until you learn how to do it without hearing your breathing. Here’s how:
Whenever you are jogging, jog at your partner’s walking pace. Make sure that your partner walks while you jog. A walk is the same walking pace you have been using to get in shape. Not a sprint-walk, but a recovery walk. Here recovery means that your heart rate and breathing return to your usual walking rate. Meanwhile, if you are jogging, pay attention to your breathing. If you can carry on a conversation without hearing more than a “huff” between sentences, you are jogging at the right beginner level.
When you jog so fast that your partner can hear your breathing, your body is producing energy without oxygen. This sort of jogging is inefficient and uncomfortable. When you are out of shape for jogging, you don’t have to jog fast before you can hear your breathing. This problem of having a small capacity is made worse when you jog fast early in the workout before you have had a chance to warm up.
Therefore, if you want to make your jogging easier, you should go very slowly for the first ten minutes. It will seem like you are holding yourself way back but keep this in mind: even at your slowest jogging pace, you will have doubled your resting heart rate, which is a significant increase in your metabolic rate.
If you want to make your jogging easier, you should also consider losing weight. It takes a lot of effort to carry extra weight around. So, you don’t have to become more aerobically fit to make your jogging easier. Just lose weight and you’ll make it easier.
Nutritional Tips to help lose weight and therefore make jogging easier
Obesity is one of the major health problems in our culture. Obese people are at great risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Most obese people simply eat too much. But many also eat incorrectly. If you are tired of being over-fat you should consider, a major restructuring of your daily meal regimen.
You must commit yourself to eat three moderate meals a day starting with a nutritious breakfast, a low-fat lunch and dinner, and no in-between-meal snacking (except for a nutritious snack between lunch and dinner). The trick is to never allow yourself to become hungry or starved because you missed a meal. And always leave a meal feeling satisfied, not full or stuffed.
If you are not obese, you probably don’t have to make radical changes in your eating pattern. Just be on the look-out for ways to substitute foods you are presently eating for foods that will give you better energy and less fat. For instance, if you are eating large amounts of ice cream, meat, cheese, peanut butter, fast foods, restaurant cooking, fried or fatty foods, sweets, booze, coffee, and soda pop, then you’ve got plenty to begin substituting.
The question is what will you put in the place of the foods you want to cut back on? Breakfast is a good place to think creatively. What can you have in place of the typical breakfast of coffee and eggs, or milk and dried cereal? Think of it this way: You owe it to yourself to have one orange per day. That’s 365 per year! Oranges have Vitamin C. If you don’t get enough of it, your teeth fall out. There are lots of vitamin C sources, but an orange will give you your daily requirement in one tasty package.
Try squeezing an orange into a bowl. Then chop a banana and half of a ripe pear into the bowl with papaya, and a garnish of granola, nuts, and raisins. Notice how your body craves fruit for breakfast. It’s different from eating sweets. Your body wants fruit; it doesn’t want sweets. Fruit takes a while to digest, so it provides good energy through the morning. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A good breakfast will raise your blood sugar level and keep it up naturally, without coffee, through most of the morning. If your energy begins to flag, have another banana.
Avoid the syndrome of eating little or nothing in the morning, feeling starved at noon, rapidly eating a large and fatty lunch, and feeling lethargic in the afternoon. The quick-fix coke or donut creates a surge of energy, but it runs out quickly leaving you feeling tired because your body has over-compensated to even out your blood sugar level. If you don’t have a nutritious afternoon snack, by evening, you are starved again. If you overeat in the evening–or any time when your energy demands are low–excess calories will be turned to fat. Remember, your body interprets the time between large, infrequent meals as a period of “starvation.” As a hedge against starvation, it slows down your metabolism and turns a greater proportion of your food to fat.
Being thin means eating before you are hungry or starved and stopping before you are full or stuffed. This middle area is “being satisfied.” If you can discipline yourself to feel satisfied after meals, you will lose weight if you need to, or maintain an ideal weight if you are there already.
Your body responds best to small and regularly spaced meals that give you just enough calories for the next few hours. The human body evolved on such “grazing” diets. So, if you want to be healthy and slender, eat as the prehistoric people did.
Most people have heard about the “runner’s high” but few have experienced it. That’s because it only occurs under two conditions. To get high on running you must push hard, which forces your body to secrete Adrenalin and the other hormones that cause the high. This is the first condition.
Even avid runners get high on running only occasionally, normally on longer runs or when they do a race. The rest of the time during normal training, they are fortunate to simply enjoy a run. This is because they are usually somewhat tired from heavy training, and with their energy low they can’t push themselves without increasing their risk of injury, illness and exhaustion. One of the main befits of being fit from running is having abundant energy.
The main difference between walking and running in the degree or level of output effort. As a rule you walk at a lower level of exertion than you would as a runner. And since your heart rate doesn’t get as high, you don’t feel as high. You’re like the runner who’s too tired to push hard, except that walking itself limits your level of exertion because you don’t get airborne like you would in running. Thus, you can’t expect to feel exhilarated—even by a brisk walk—but you can aim to enjoy it. Enjoyment isn’t the same as the proverbial runner’s high, but even enjoyment can be elusive, because you can’t force enjoyment when your energy is low.
Remember, your energy is the key to feeling high on exercise. So you need to pay close attention to your energy during a walk. Do you have no energy, little energy, some energy, ample energy, or abundant energy? Notice how the level of your energy changes during a workout. It usually starts off low and increases as you warm up. Meanwhile, the less energy you have the slower you must go in order to enjoy the activity. Notice when your energy is low that mild exertion (very slow and soothing) enables you to be satisfied with the effort, and as you warm up your energy increases and you can go a little faster. You may even begin to enjoy the workout, because you were wise enough to coordinate your pace with the way you felt.
The most important part of maintaining a fitness regimen is harmony. Your pace and the duration of the workout must be in harmony with your energy. If you feel burdened or oppressed by the effort of a workout, you aren’t in harmony with it. If you are tired, go short and slow and you’ll feel satisfied, which is harmonious. If you feel energetic you can walk briskly until you start to feel fatigued. If you stop at that point you will have enjoyed the workout which is also harmonious. But be ready to cut back on your walk the next day to give yourself a chance to recover from the harder effort. In other words, it’s harmonious to wait until you feel energetic again before you push yourself.
Let your attitude tell you when you’ve gone far enough for the day. In my system, we measure our attitude about the effort of a workout on the following scale: oppressed, burdened, satisfied, enjoyed, exhilarated. Remember, the potential is always there to be burdened or oppressed by a workout, depending again on your energy and your effort.
Therefore, if you feel little energy, go slow enough to be satisfied by the workout. In this way, you’ll increase the likelihood that you’ll stay with your walking regimen, rather than give it up because it seems so burdensome. If you aim to be satisfied, you may surprise yourself by occasionally enjoying a workout.
Let’s face it. Most of us know we should exercise. But we often get overwhelmed by the many reasons not to exercise. The challenge is to deal with our reasoning. If we could change the way we think about exercise, maybe we would do it.
This is much easier said than done because our mental habits are difficult to break. Your mindset could be ‘time, pain, sweat, too much hassle” if someone says you exercise.
So, what’s it going to take to change these associations? You literally must break through to a new way of thinking about exercise, which depends on seeing it from a new perspective.
What’s the biggest problem when it comes to exercising regularly? Most people say it’s time. Or the lack of it. “We’re over-committed at work and in our personal lives. So how can we possibly take the time to exercise daily? It’s a matter of priorities. There are so many people depending on us that we can’t possibly take care of ourselves, even though we know we should.” Herein lies the primary fallacy in our thinking about time and commitment.
It’s the reasoning that puts our boss and family before our personal needs. (And by the way, it’s easy to rationalize this set of priorities when you don’t like to exercise in the first place.) Think about this for a minute: how long and how effectively can you continue to serve your boss and family if you don’t exercise? If you don’t eat well, sleep enough, and maintain your physical strength? This is the crux of the matter. You simply owe it to others who depend on you to be fit for life.
Even if it seems that lots of coffee, fast food and long hours are working for you, an honest assessment tells another story. You are stressed out, over-weight and losing your ability to maintain the pace. It’s tough to admit, but you aren’t the young and energetic specimen you once were. Maybe you can hang in there for a few more years, or maybe a few after that. But sooner or later you’ll have to deal with the results of your sedentary lifestyle—the way you choose to live while you put other people ahead of your basic fitness needs.
You absolutely must take care of yourself now, or sooner or later someone else will be taking care of you. And it won’t be pretty, especially if you have heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s or any of the diseases associated with sedentary living. You may wish for a quick end to life so as not to burden other people, and these days many in their fifties and early sixties are getting their wish. Cynics say that the amount of time we gain by exercising is off-set by the time we lose by exercising. That may be true, but it overlooks the quality of life issue.
Human beings were meant to exercise. From the evolutionary perspective, we’ve been hunters and gatherers much longer than we’ve been office workers. Movement is natural, even enjoyable. Otherwise the human ability to walk great distances would have been deselected long ago. Now-a-days we must contrive ways to exercise. Then, moving around to gather fire wood, nuts and berries was simply part of living.
I spend most of my day in front of a computer. It feels great to take a jog in the early evening, to take a shower afterwards, and to eat a nutritious meal. I wouldn’t trade that forty minutes of exercise for anything. Afterwards I feel relaxed, refreshed and ready for the rest of the evening.
I also feel that I’m living in harmony with my natural physical being. We absolutely cannot neglect our physical being. We must strive for physical and spiritual balance. Others are depending on us.
I have tried to be more conscious about what I’m focusing on since my last tough run when I slammed into the wall around mile 18. I researched the ‘hitting the wall’ syndrome and found the study of 1996 London Marathon runners and the conclusions the authors came to regarding mental race strategies. I was struck with their observation that elite runners tend to spend a great deal more time focusing on how they feel (internal disassociation) than non-elite runners. In other words, they focus more on what they’re doing and less on distracting themselves.
As my Saturday runs became longer, I tried to pass the time by distracting myself. It wasn’t that I was particularly bored, I just didn’t know how or what to think for 2 1/2 hours. I could cheat and get by on my shorter weekday runs because I knew I wasn’t in any danger of crashing, so I found myself struggling once I was out on the road for longer periods of time.
For the last few weeks I’ve made a conscious effort to make my shorter runs more effective. Consequently, my longer runs have benefited accordingly. Here are six mental strategies regarding the management of pain and fatigue.
6 Mental Strategies to manage Pain and Fatigue
Focus on small, manageable goals. One mile at a time, running to the next light post, one more lap, whatever it may be. It will take mental training to be able to truly focus on running one mile, and then doing 10, 15, 20, 26 times, or whatever your distance is, but if you can break your run into small segments and focus on achieving these small goals, the larger goal won’t seem as daunting.Focus on your form, pace and breathing. This is 100% internal association and it’s what I’ve been focusing on the most over the past few weeks. Whenever I catch my thoughts wandering, whenever I start up a hill or whenever I start to feel a little fatigued, even on a short Monday afternoon run, I block everything out and think of three things.
Is my form efficient? This most often involves me dropping my hands, which creep higher and higher as I get tired (making for tense shoulder muscles, which wastes energy).
Is my leg turnover smooth and light. If my heels are scraping the ground, I need to pick them up and run light. Third, is my breathing in sync with my body movement. Breathe in on the left foot. Breathe out on the left foot. It’s a rhythm I’ve been in since day one last summer. It’s natural now, but when I get tired, I almost always find that my breathing is not in sync with my leg turnover. Arms, legs, breathing. Let your body run like a well-tuned, efficient machine. Not a clunker.
Visualization. Call this internal disassociation if you’d like. Our bodies respond physiologically to images. Visualize yourself finishing your race or approaching your family and friends along the course. Visualize your muscles relaxing. Put yourself back in an exciting or happy moment. Some of these images will produce a smile, some may produce a tear, some may give you goose bumps. By learning to focus on these images, you will be prepared to do so when fatigue sets in and you need a bit of physiological stimulation to reset your body and mind,
Change your beliefs regarding pain and fatigue. Do you view these feelings as feelings of failure? Or do you view them as an opportunity to experience a breakthrough in your personal level of achievement? You’re only feeling pain and fatigue because you have pushed yourself closer to your perceived limit of ability. How great will it be to push through these feelings and come out on the other side, now with limitless possibilities as to your potential? Shift your mindset from the negative to the positive and the sudden pain and fatigue are no longer enemies, but friends. Friends running with you on your way to achieving your goals.
You’re not alone. Particularly in a race, look around. Chances are you’re not the only one feeling these things. But you will be one of the few who knows how to handle them — and that will set you apart. Take confidence in this.
External disassociation. Certainly, there is a time and place for it. Sing a song, create a rhyme, hi-five the aide station volunteers, tell your life story to the runner next to you (only with their approval of course). For some runners, this is what gets them over, through or around the wall.
I encourage you to find what works best for you. It’s going to be different for everyone, but hopefully I’ve given you some options to work from.