Stretching is probably one of the most important, but most overlooked areas when it comes to working out. I am definitely guilty of not stretching enough, however have been forcing myself to become better at it. As runners, we are doing thousands of repetitive foot strikes each time we run, which can cause muscles to tighten up and lead to injury if we aren’t careful. In Crossfit, it is not only important to stretch for injury prevention as well, but also if we aren’t flexible enough, it is going to be very difficult to do a lot of movements (squat, snatch, clean, etc…). Below I listed my favorite lower body stretches that I try and do every day or every other day. In each stretch, I like to do the PNF technique, which stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, and has been studied to be the most effective type of stretching. During PNF stretching, there is a contract phase where the opposing muscle to being stretched is being contracted to allow the target muscle to relax. Then in the second phase of the stretch, the muscles relax and can be stretched into a new range of motion. A muscle usually takes around 2 minutes to relax so try and contract for 5 seconds as hard as possible and relax into the new range of motion for 10 seconds (never coming out of that new end range of motion) for a series of 8 times, which will roughly come out to be 2 minutes. Hope that this helps!
As runners (and Crossfitters) we tend to get super tight hips.. especially for those of you that tend to over stride like I do. The couch stretch has two parts, the first part of the stretch is meant to help loosen up the hip flexors. As shown in my picture, get into a kneeling lunge position against a wall with your back knee as close to the wall as you can handle, while keeping hips square to the floor and hands flat. You can do PNF style stretching by contracting or tightening your back quad and glute and driving your knee to the floor as hard as you can for 5 seconds. Then exhale and relax and let your hips sink closer to the floor for 10 seconds. Try this for a series of 8 times or about 2 minutes. Remember, once you find that new range of motion in the stretch during the relax phase, never come out of it and do the next contraction from that spot.
In the second part of the couch stretch, the hips are opened to then stretch the quads. Make sure to keep the rips pulled down and have the stomach tight to prevent the back from arching. Then, contract the quad and glute for 5 seconds as hard as possible and relax into the new range of motion for 10 seconds by letting the hips sink forward and drawing the torso more upright. for a series of 2 minutes each side.
Banded Hamstring Stretch:
Hamstrings are another area that are very tight on most runners. When hamstrings are tight, they can not only lead to an easier pulled hamstring muscle, which unfortunately has happened to some of our CF athletes during shorter sprints, but also can be a big contributor to low back pain as well. This hamstring stretch can also be done with the help of a friend, but if you don’t have a friend, then a band works great. It is done by lying on your back and looping the arch of the foot through the band. With your leg as straight as possible, use the band to pull the leg up until you feel a stretch through the hamstring. Incorporate PNF stretching by taking a deep breath, contracting the quad and trying to drive the leg forward, however at the same time resisting the leg from moving by pulling on the band. Then, exhale and relax and let the leg draw in closer to you. Repeat for 2 minutes.
You can also get more medial hamstring by letting the leg drop off to the side.
Tight ankles and calves can also lead to some bad injuries if left untreated, such as shin splints or plantar fasciitis, which can be really stubborn injuries and take a while to go away. For Crossfitters, having tight ankles can make it really hard to get down low in squats. I like to start off by loosening the surrounding muscle with a lacrosse ball by sitting with one leg bent and a lacrosse ball underneath my shin and just rolling around on it for a few minutes, starting down towards my ankle and working my way up towards my knee. Then I will switch and loosen up the opposite side by just smashing the ball on the other part of my shin with my hand. If that doesn’t get in deep enough you can also put 2.5 or 5# plates at each end of a barbell, so it is just slightly lifted off the floor, and roll your calves and anterior/posterior tibialis (muscles that make up your shins) around on that… but it is pretty gnarly.
Once the muscles are a bit loosened up, then do your static stretching. I also have 2 variations that I like to do for the ankles/calves as well. In this first stretch, which will target more of the calf, I prop my foot as straight up against a wall as possible and keep my leg straight. I then contract by pressing my foot as hard as I can against the wall, and then relax by leaning in further towards the wall.
In the second stretch, I slightly bend my front knee, which will target more of my ankle, achilles and heel cord. When I contract in this stretch I still drive my foot in against the wall, but when I relax, I lean in further towards the wall as well as drive me knee outward.
This stretch looks kind of funny, but is a great one for the inner thighs, which tend to get overworked when running and squatting. This stretch can be done by laying with a band under your hips and your butt up as close to the wall as you can. Then loop each end of the band around the knee. During the contract phase of the stretch, try and squeeze legs together, but without letting them buckle in. Then in the relax phase, let the knees fall out to the sides more. This stretch is also really good too without the band. The set up is the same, however the legs can be straight and allow them to fall out to the sides.
The IT band is a really difficult area to stretch. However, if it gets too tight it can cause hip pain as well as knee pain and can definitely take you out of a race if it gets bad. Start out by rolling out the area with a foam roller or lacrosse ball or better yet get a friend to kneel on it. This can help get any knots or trigger points out of it or help unglue it from the quad. Then after its loosened up a bit, I like to do this stretch. To do it, get both legs to make a 90 degree angle and then while keeping your ribs down and back flat, reach your stomach down over your leg. Contract by driving the knee that is out in front into the ground for 5 seconds, then relax by exhaling and then sinking your stomach/chest in further towards the leg.