Favorite Lower Body Stretches for Runners and Crossfitters

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!

Couch Stretch:

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.

Ankles/Calves:

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.

Adductors (Inner Thighs):

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.

Glute/IT Band:

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.

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6 weeks to go!

So it has now come down to about 6 weeks until Badwater. This means I have about 4 weeks to actually train hard so that I can have a nice two week taper before the race. To be honest, the past two weeks have been a bit rough for me and caused me to really stress out over it last week. After running the Bishop 50 mile, my foot kind of started hurting again. All of the soft sand on the course probably wasn’t the best thing for it since it was a pretty unstable surface. Then to top it off I got the flu. At that point, however, I wasn’t too worried. I figured that a few days off after a hard 50 mile would probably do me some good and would allow my foot to calm down. Mark and I also had plans to go up to Western States Training Camp the following weekend, where we would be running 70 miles over 3 days and so I would still get some kick ass training in over the weekend.

Then Friday came and as Mark and I drove up to camp I felt horrible. I slept in the car almost the whole 7 hour drive up, but was still trying to be optimistic about being able to run the next day. I had been sick since Monday, so figured that by Saturday it just HAD to be gone! So I woke up Saturday morning at 4am and got myself all ready for a 32 mile run. I felt really groggy and pretty crappy, but figured it was from waking up at FOUR IN THE MORNING! However, during the drive to the start at Foresthill, I wasn’t feeling any better and running 30+ miles sounded absolutely horrible. I have done the run 3 or so times before and knew that it wasn’t an easy 30 miles either and just didn’t think that I had the energy to even make it up Devil’s Thumb (a 1.5ish mile hill that is literally straight up) and so I ended up just dropping Mark off and went back to the hotel to sleep. A couple hours later I woke back up, ate breakfast and watched who knows how many episodes of Arrested Development on TV. Around noon though I just couldn’t take it anymore. We had driven SEVEN HOURS to do this totally awesome run on the Western States course and it was a gorgeous day out and there I was sitting in the hotel watching TV. How lame is that!? So even though I still felt shitty, I put my running clothes on (well actually they were still on from the morning) and headed back up to Foresthill. The run was point to point and so runners were bussed up the mountain to Robinson’s Flat (Mile 30sih during the Western States run) and then would finish back at Foresthill. I figured Mark should only have a few miles left and so I decided to head up the trail in the opposite direction the the runners were coming from until I found him and then would turn back and run it in with him. So, Im not sure how one manages to get lost on the Western States trail (its a very well marked trail with signs all over the place!) but of course Mark managed to get lost. However the second that he got back on course was when I had caught up to him. Had I had been there 30 seconds earlier, I would have not seen him.. weird. Luckily I found him and we ran/hiked the last few miles in together. So I got in about 7 miles for the day. Even though it was something, it wasn’t what I had wanted to do at all and I was jealous that Mark got to run 30+ miles and I didn’t 😦

Sunday morning I woke up feeling a lot better, with only a stuffy nose remaining and so was determined to run the 19 miles that day. My legs felt really strong and 19 miles felt like a piece of cake, but my dang foot hurt! Seriously, so annoying. By Monday (memorial day), Mark was trashed and I didn’t want to aggravate my foot anymore, so we ended up skipping the last day and headed back home.

On Tuesday, my foot was still bad and my positive attitude was starting to fade. Luckily though, my massage therapist, Jess, was able to see me and do some graston work on it to help loosen it up and break up some of the scar tissue, which was probably a result from the surgery I just had on it. So I missed another day of running and did some CrossFit with lots of squats instead.

Wednesday, foot still hurt. Felt slightly better, but not good enough to run. I originally had wanted to do 30-35 miles of hills on the bike, but my legs were so torn up from squatting the day before, so I cut my ride down to 22 miles and even that wiped me out.

Thursday, again foot was not good enough to run and so I did intervals on the rower and still had myself a good workout, but it wasn’t putting in miles on the road like I knew I should be doing at this point with the race less than two months away. UGH!

Friday, came the day that I lost it. I went to physical therapy and on the drive home just started crying. I felt like I hadn’t gotten in any long workouts in 2 whole (even though I had just done a 50 mile and 19 miles the following weekend… sometimes I can be a bit overdramatic and emotional maybe?) and barely any running on the road like I should have been doing. Road running is really critical to do before a race like Badwater. You’re legs take so much of a beating from all the pounding on the road compared to trail. I was majorly stressed out about how I was going to still get in good enough shape to run BADWATER, when my foot was still hurting and I couldn’t even run. So I went home and laid on the couch and watched a movie feeling sorry for myself, but of course texting with Traci who always knows exactly what to say to cheer me up. So after talking with her and calming down a bit, I decided to get my ass to the gym and still get a good workout in. Of course, workouts when you’re pissed off are always the best, and this one was no different. I did intervals on the airdyne bike and then “The Seven,” which is a CF workout that consists of 7 rounds of 7 reps of 7 different movements. I was pretty much dead by round 3 but persevered on to finish all the damn rounds.

On Saturday, I woke up and started to see some light at the end of the tunnel. My foot actually didn’t hurt THAT bad! I was scheduled to a long run on Sunday and still wanted to possibly make that happen and so I decided to go out on a run to test out my foot and see if it would hold up for the next day. It ached a little for the first couple miles, but once I got going I didn’t notice it all that much. I ended up doing 8 miles with a good hill climb that I was able to run hard all the way up. This put me in a MUCH better mood and allowed me to chill out a little bit. THANK GOODNESS!

On Sunday, my goal was to get in 4 hours or 25 miles, whichever came first and was just praying to God that my foot would hold up. I seriously have the best mom ever and she agreed to crew me on my run through Santiago Canyon, my favorite local spot to get some good, hard road miles in. The canyon is 12-13 miles long, with very minimal flat miles. I would start at one end and run to the other end and see how far I could make it back. Now there are some pretty good grades on this road and it always kicks my butt, but despite not getting in too much road training I felt phenomenal. Like the best I had ever felt on that course. I was having a glorious time running and had a great time with my mom. She would leap frog ahead of me about 2-3 miles and then I would spend a few moments with her while I drank some Vitargo and Mila and she refilled my water bottle and cooled me off with a wet towel. The whole time I was moving at a pretty good pace, which didn’t even feel that hard and didn’t even start to fatigue at all until about 20 miles in. I have also been taking this new supplement called, Extreme Endurance, and I think that has been helping a little with my endurance as well and combined with Vitargo… how could I not feel great?! In 4 hours I hit 23.5 miles and it was plenty good enough for me and so we called it a day. The run was a HUGE confidence booster. Ok, maybe I still am in shape and maybe rest DOES do some good sometimes (who woulda thought?) My foot ached a little but felt way better than it did the weekend before. A couple more sessions of acupuncture, massage and PT and I know things will be just fine.

So now comes the heat training in June. Mark and I have plans to run in Palm Springs this weekend and will be going to Cabo is just about 2 weeks for some heat training as well… Ugh, what a rough life! Maybe I’ll even get in the sauna a few times, but I would rather just go out and run in the heat. Every time I go in the sauna its filled with old, fat, hairy dudes and it grosses me out. Plus, I really just think its more efficient training to just run when its really damn hot out. Ha, random but I remember even as a high schooler wanting to go run outside when it was like 90-100 degrees out and my mom telling me no. I guess that back fired on her as now she gets to be there with me when Im running in that kind of heat! June is also time to start getting all my stuff together for the race. I got a HUGE shipment of socks and gear from Injinji this week for my crew and myself for the race (thank you!) and wanna start thinking about making some shirts for my team. I want like a cool team name for our shirts.. any suggestions??!

So point of today’s blog… if I start freaking the f**k out over the next month, remind me to breathe, calm down and to not be such a nut job. Everything will be ok! So let the countdown begin… 6 weeks! Ahh so excited for this again!!!

This week has been a busy one. But I like staying busy, so its all good. I got in a good 14 mile run on Monday and learned a new 13 mile loop near our house with Mark on Wednesday. I also did CF a whole 3x! My foot was kind of feeling weird this week though, so I took today off to let it rest and actually got in to see the podiatrist. Turns out I have a stress reaction in my cuboid bone in my left foot. Basically a stress reaction is what happens before a stress fracture. The bone gets inflamed and soft and eventually if not taken care of properly, it can lead to a crack in the bone, aka a stress fracture. It was a good thing that I went in and got it checked out today! I’ve had a stress fracture before in my foot and it sucked. So I know what most people are gonna say… you run too much and are overtraining, but I really don’t think that is what happened. A couple weeks ago, when I did a 20 mile night run, I rolled my ankle really bad. Since I was up in the mountains, I had to shake it off and keep running on it for 10 more miles and I think that was what did it. Boo. From now until Chimera I will just take it easy with running and ride my bike a little more and try and stay off it as much as possible and I think I’ll be A-ok.

Tuesday was a fun day though. A couple weeks ago I was asked by one of our members at my crossfit, Chirs, who is a professional photographer, if he could get some running shots of me for a project that he was working on. Of course I agreed and so Tuesday we went out and shot some photos on the Shady Canyon trails.

Chris takes really awesome pictures. The last two are my absolute favorites! To check out more of his pictures check out http://www.photobishow.com.

Tomorrow will be my last long workout before Chimera. Last night, my friend Lauren, asked me if I wanted to do a 6 hour time trial cycling race with her out in Palm Springs. Since Im taking it easy with running, its perfect.. minus the fact that I have been on my bike once since I decided to stop training for the 508 because I suck at cycling. I will get my ass kicked, butI’m excited. My first real bike race! Ill let you all know how that goes later.

Peace out girl scouts.