One simple pose can tell you a lot about your body.
Written by: Sage Rountree
Most runners claim they have tight hamstrings. I see it all the time in the yoga classes I teach to athletes. But often, the problem is less in the hamstrings and more in the opposing muscle groups: the quadriceps and, more importantly, the hip flexors.
It’s not surprising that this should be the case. Most of us spend hours every day sitting in chairs and car seats, a position that can slacken the hamstrings and tighten the hip flexors. We then carry this position—an anterior tilt of the pelvis—with us into our sport, which can lead to all kinds of problems, from lower-back pain to hip, knee, and foot issues.
Here’s a way you can check whether there’s an imbalance in your own hips. After your next easy run, when you’re already warm and relatively loose, come onto the floor and into a lunge with your right leg forward and your left knee down, as in the photo. (Here’s a video in which I show you how to get there: http://running.competitor.com/2009/08/training/yoga-for-runners-low-lunge-part-1_4518) Your right shin should be perpendicular to the ground, so that your knee is directly above your ankle. Your hands can be on the ground on either side of your right foot, or you can rest your hands on your knee—you’ll do both as part of your self-assessment.
Collect some observational data. Where do you feel the stretch? Is it more intense in the back of the right leg (that is, in the hamstrings) or in the front of the left leg (the hip flexors)? If your hands are on the ground, you’ll be stretching your right hamstrings more; how does that change when you move your hands to your right knee, which will take more of the stretch into the left hip flexors? Is one area more noticeably tight?
Move to the other side, lunging with the left leg forward and the right knee down. How does this side compare? What’s the
difference between having your hands to the ground and to the left thigh?
If you find that your hip flexors are comparatively tighter than your hamstrings, you can target them with some flexibility work. Yoga poses like this very lunge are a good place to start, but they can be intense. The nicest, most passive stretch for your hip flexors is to lie on the edge of a sofa or bed with one leg dangling off. Take your arms overhead (or behind your head, since you’re lounging) and stay for a few breaths, until you feel a pleasant release.
Imbalances around the hips can put a hitch in your stride, leading to inefficiency at best and to injury at worst. When the muscle groups around your hips are well balanced, your stride is more fluid and economical—you’re a better runner.
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Sage Rountree, Runner’s World’s yoga expert, is author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga and The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga. In addition to teaching yoga workshops nationwide, she is an active coach with certifications from USA Triathlon and the RRCA.