See how you stand up against these flexibility standards and learn how to improve if you fall short.
The overwhelming desire to hit the shower immediately post-run and pass on a few minutes of stretching may detrimentally impact your performance going forward. Although holding a few toe touches after a run may not seem like much, a detailed stretching protocol focusing on your specific needs can help restore length to muscles that have naturally grown tight throughout your run and normal daily activities.
To gain flexibility, it’s important to include a few key stretches at the end of your workout. Use the following flexibility tests to help determine where you need to focus some extra time.
How to Do It: Hold a pencil in one hand. Stand with your feet about hip width apart and your hands both hanging loosely down at your sides. Pretend the pencil is an hour hand of a clock. Look at where the hour hand would be pointing and use the following scoring:
Description: The typical desk posture pulls your shoulders forward and causes your hands to rotate inward when relaxed. For running, this means that your arms may drive across the body during the arm swing. With a tight upper body, proper breathing often becomes difficult.
The Fix: Use a lacrosse ball to massage your chest and break up tight tissue. Also, focus on foam rolling and stretching the lats to open up the upper body. To regain proper breathing patterns, incorporate breathing drills into your pre-run warm-up that engage the diaphragm while keeping the rib cage pressed down.
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Active Straight Leg Raise
How to Do It: Lie on the ground with both legs extended. Keeping both legs straight, raise your right leg straight up in the air while making sure to keep your left leg completely flat on the ground. Measure how far in degrees you can comfortably raise your leg without compensations like lifting your down leg or allowing your hips to rotate (0 degrees represents the starting position, 90 degrees represents straight up and down).
Good: 80 degrees or greater
Average: 60-80 degrees
Poor: Less than 60 degrees
Description: The active straight leg raise is a measure of range of motion at the hamstring that can actively be used during movement. While many runners may feel like their hamstrings are tight after a run, in reality, they may have adequate range of motion. However, if your score is less than 60 degrees, you have some work to do.
The Fix: Gain length by performing a stretch much like the actual test itself. Use a strap or band to pull your leg up in the air. Focus on keeping your back flat on the floor and your knee straight as you raise your leg. If lying down isn’t an option, place your leg on top of an object of about knee height. Keep your back flat and your chest up as you slowly bend forward.
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How to Do It: One area that typically gets tight on the majority of runners is the hip flexors. To test your flexibility in this area, lie face-up on the very end of a massage table. Pull one knee into your chest. Your other leg should be hanging freely in the air — not in contact with the ground. Allow your down leg to relax and have a workout partner evaluate two different areas:
Poor: Hangs above parallel with your body
Average: Hangs parallel with your body
Good: Hangs below parallel with your body
Poor: Knee angle is greater than 100 degrees
Average: Knee angle is 90 degrees
Good: Knee angle is less than 90 degrees
Description: This test evaluates flexibility in two different areas — the hip and quadriceps. The first measure at the thigh is a measurement of hip flexibility. The second measurement at the knee looks more at the quadriceps. As we run, we consistently recruit our hip flexors to pull our leg forward for the next step. As a result, they often become over-tight.
The Fix: Because many runners will fall short in both measurements, the best approach is to tackle both problems. A typical hip flexor stretch (often referred to as the runner’s stretch) involves kneeling in a lunge position with one knee on the ground. Brace your core and keep your pelvis tucked forward as you slowly lunge forward while pushing your down knee behind your body. Alongside this typical stretch, incorporate a variation designed to stretch the quadriceps alongside the hip flexors by elevating your back foot with a small box or pad.