**This post is one of several in an excerpt series from the book, Be a Better Runner by Sally Edwards & Carl Foster**
Stretching expert, Bob Anderson, recommends that you find four or five stretches that really help you and do them several times per day, including at bedtime. He recommends that you choose from the following menu of ten basic stretches to maintain range of motion from toe to head.
1. ANKLE ROTATION
The ankle is important for overall flexibility. To keep it loose, sit on the floor with your legs spread apart, and then grab one ankle with both hands and rotate it clockwise and coun- terclockwise through a complete range of motion with slight resistance provided. This rotary motion of the ankle helps to gently stretch tight ligaments and improve circulation. Repeat ten to twenty times in each direction. Do both ankles.
2. SITTING CALF AND HAMSTRING STRETCH
This movement stretches the lower leg’s rear muscles and the area behind the knee. Sit upright with one leg straight ahead and the other leg bent at the knee, with the bottom of the foot on your bent leg resting flat against the inner thigh of your outstretched leg. If you are not very flexible, point your toes toward your body, and lean at your waist toward the extended foot until you feel a stretch in the back of your knee. Hold this position for ten to fifteen seconds.
If you are flexible, assume the same position, but reach out with the same-side hand, grab the back of your toes, and pull them toward you. Keep your head up and your back as straight as possible.
3. OPPOSITE HAND/OPPOSITE FOOT QUAD STRETCH
Lying on your side or standing, hold the top of your right foot with your left hand and gently pull your heel toward your buttocks. The knee bends at a natural angle when you hold your foot with the opposite hand. This is good to use in knee rehabilitation and by those with problem knees. Hold each leg in this position for thirty seconds.
4. SPINAL TWIST: LOWER BACK AND HAMSTRINGS
Although Anderson warns that this stretch is difficult for the average person to do, it is highly beneficial for the back. Sit on the floor with your right leg straight ahead. Bend your left leg, cross your left foot over to the outside of your upper-right thigh, just above your knee. During the stretch, use your elbow to keep your left leg stationary with controlled pressure to the inside. With your left hand resting behind you, slowly turn your head to look over your left shoulder and at the same time rotate your upper body toward your left hand and arm. This should stretch your lower back and side of hip. Hold for fifteen seconds. Do both sides.
5. GROIN AND BACK STRETCH
This comfortable stretch is an easy, safe way to stretch an area that is often tight and hard to relax: the groin. It also flattens your lower back, helping counteract a hump. Lie on your back with your knees bent, the soles of your feet together, and your hands resting on your stomach. Let your knees hang down toward the floor, allowing gravity to stretch your groin. By contrast, people often sit up and perform a groin stretch by leaning forward with a rounded-back torso that is hard on the back ligaments.
6. SECRETARY STRETCH FOR LOWER BACK AND HIPS
Here’s another stretch for the back, which also happened to be great for people with sciatic pain. Lying on your back with your knees up in a sit-up position, interlace your fingers behind your head and lift your left leg over your right leg. From here, pivot your left leg to the right, pulling your right leg toward the floor until you feel a good stretch along the side of your hip and lower back. Stretch and relax. Keep your upper back, shoulders, and elbows flat on the floor. Hold for twenty to thirty seconds. Repeat the stretch for the other side.
7. THE SAIGON SQUAT
“If I had one stretch to do, this would be it for keeping overall muscle and joint flexibility,” says Anderson. “It’s the most natural position in human history—squatting to relieve yourself in a floor-pit toilet.” The squat stretches everything from the mid-section down, including the ankles, Achilles tendons, groin, lower back, and hips. Anderson is fond of pointing out that the squat taxes humans much more than the seated-position Western toilet, which is why rural Asians usually have better postures and livelier steps than their occidental counterparts.
The squat is simple to perform: With your feet shoulder-width apart and pointed out to about a fifteen-degree angle, and with your heels on the ground, bend your knees and squat down. Hold for thirty seconds. If you have ultra-tight Achilles tendons, you can’t balance with flat feet, and you generally have trouble staying in this position, hold on to something for support. If you have knee problems, discontinue this stretch at the first sign of pain.
8. WILLIAMS’ FLEXION HAMSTRING STRETCH
Considered very relaxing and safe after a run, this easy stretch is great for pelvis flexibility, hip flexors, back, and circulation (because it gets the foot above the heart). To do it, lie on your back, keeping your back flat, and draw one knee into your chest by pulling it in from the back of the knee; repeat with the other leg. For variation, pull your knee toward your opposite shoulder.
9. ELONGATION STRETCH/TOTAL BODY RELAXER
This nearly flawless post-exercise stretch feels good and stretches many muscles—abdominals, intercostals, the top of the foot and ankle, the back, and more. Lying down flat on your back, make yourself as tall as possible, straightening your arms and legs and pointing your toes and extending your fingers. Stretch and then relax. Hold for five seconds. For variety, stretch diagonally, extending the opposite arm and leg.
10. TRICEPS AND TOP OF SHOULDERS
Anderson calls the upper body “a storehouse of mental and physical tension.” So, with your arms overhead, hold the elbow of one arm with the hand of the other arm and gently pull the elbow behind your head and push it down, creating a stretch. Do it slowly. Hold for fifteen seconds. Do not use drastic force to limber up. Stretch on both sides. You can do this stretch while walking.
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More to come ..
Keep your eyes peeled as we continue to release excerpts throughout upcoming weeks. If you fall in love with these tips from our excerpt series, make sure to stop in and grab a copy of Be a Better Runner from our online store, and keep it on your shelf at home to reference and share with others!