Friday, March 25, 2011

Semper Gumby*

*a play on the official Marine Corps motto Semper Fidelis, usually abbreviated Semper Fi, which means "always faithful". "Semper Gumby" refers to the cartoon character Gumby and means "always flexible." (Wikipedia 2011)

In my last post, I revealed that I have not been stretching after I run.  Am I the only runner in the world who doesn't know how important it is to stretch right after you run?  I have pretty much never done this, so it's no wonder I have such freaking tight muscles.  I started doing this after running the last couple of days and felt like even more of an idiot because it actually works!  Live and learn.

My tight areas are probably common to most runners: calves, IT band, hips, butt, lower back.  So these are the stretches I use after every run now.  It takes about 10 minutes to do all of this.

I mostly focus on stretching out my soleus, but I like to stretch out the muscles and tendons of my toes and foot too.  For the soleus stretch, Spidey demonstrates how you do your regular calf stretch but, rather than keeping the stretched leg (left) straight, bend the knee of the leg you're stretching (Spidey's left leg) in order to hit the soleus.  For more detailed instructions go here.  To stretch the muscles/tendons in the bottom of my foot, I use the stretch pictured on the right.  I press my toes up against a wall or pole like our biker chick is doing, and then I bend that right knee, moving it toward and away from the pole/wall to get a good stretch on the bottom of my foot.  I hold each stretch for 10-20 seconds and do each stretch 2-3 times on each leg.

IT Band
Hopefully, everyone already knows that you can't actually stretch your IT band.  You can possibly deform it, but that takes a lot of work.  So, what you're actually after when you do an IT band stretch is stretching out or lengthening the muscles that control the tension in the IT band like one or more of your quads, tensor fascia latae, gluteals, etc.  The first of the two stretches I do for the IT band is complicated to explain, but I'll try.  It is sort of pictured on the left, except that you don't use a band.  You start lying on your back with one leg, let's say the right, outstretched straight on the ground and pull your left knee up toward your chest.  You then position the left knee slightly right of center line (so toward the right leg) and then start to straighten the left leg to get into roughly the position the fine gentleman is demonstrating except that you're holding your leg with your hands rather than a band.  I usually put my left hand on the outside of my left quad and hold my lower leg with my right hand.   You're pulling the straight leg toward your torso and to the right the whole time.  You will feel tension along the entire outside of the leg if you're doing it right and it will be uncomfortable.  I hold this one for 10 seconds, release by bending the left leg, then stretch for 10 seconds, release and then bite my lip and stretch it for 20 seconds.  This is the stretch that is supposed to keep my IT band sliding smoothly over my quad muscles, so I give it extra special attention.  I also do the old standby stretch pictured on the right.  I feel that more in my glutes and lower back as I twist to touch the opposite foot.

Hip flexors
This is the only stretch I do for the hip flexors.  It works.  It hurts.  Enough said.  Sometimes, I will alternate a nice hamstring stretch by simply sitting back on my back foot and leaning forward to touch my toe like the young fawn on the right.  For both of these, I hold the stretch for at least 10 seconds, release and go into the other stretch, repeating this cycle 3 times.  I'm not sure if that's the best way to do this, but I like it.

The big bad gluteals
These bad boys are giving me problems lately for some inexplicable reason.  So, they are also getting special treatment.  There are really a number of stretches that you can do for the glutes.  My favorite is the sitting glute stretch shown on the left, but I also sometimes do the lying glute stretch shown on the right.  You can modify this one to attack other areas like the piriformis as well.  I have done and still do the one below, but I swear I just don't feel it as much in my glutes.  With each of these, I tend to like to just hold and continue to hold for 20-30 seconds each leg, pushing or pulling more as I feel the muscles release.

Twisting side stretch
One stretch that seems to get at a lot of key muscles is the twisting side stretch demonstrated by the foxy lady on the left.  A few things to keep in mind with this one: you're actually sort of lunging with your front foot (left in this case), pushing your right hip with your hand out to the right, and reaching your right arm toward the left as far as you can go.  Rather than just a simple side bend, this is more of a twist.  You should feel this in the lower back and glutes and even down the outside of your leg.  Try twisting more or less and lunging more or less to see what other fun muscles you can engage in the stretch.  I hold this one for 20-30 seconds and then do some 5 second pulses to finish it off.

Extra credit
If you can find a partner willing to torture you, you can do the stretch on the right for extra credit.  Look how much fun they're having!  I won't often get to do this one right after I run unless the Genius is handy or I can convince a girlie to lend me a shoulder.  The key here is for the helper to push the lower part of your bent leg (rather than the knee of your bent leg) toward your torso.  Dr. Lau was happy to hear that the Genius and I were doing this stretch for each other, but he was concerned that it might become a competition.  I, of course, win every time.

So, that's about it for stretching.  I covered my rolling routine last summer in this post.  According to Dr. Lau, I need to roll daily and can do this in the evening if I want to rather than right after running.  One major difference is in how I use the little massage ball.  Instead of sitting upright to roll my glutes and hips, I lay down, placing the ball under the muscle I'm trying to roll and wiggle or work back and forth on hot spots until they loosen up.  You don't want to mash down on those spots and kill them, you just slowly work them free.  A couple of new areas that I roll out with the grid are the peroneus longus muscle on the lower leg and my latissimus dorsi muscles in my back. I hope this helps you, and please remember to stretch after every run!!!


  1. Nope - you're not close to being the only runner who doesn't stretch (oops!). Thanks for the clear explanations and descriptions. I'll give it a try after tomorrow's run.

  2. I hope it helps you too, Mark. It's funny how I have rationalized not stretching by saying I don't have time. But, not enough time = I just don't like to do it. Now that I see how important it is, I think I'll have the time:)

  3. Thanks for that. I like the non-spidey calf stretch against the pole - and the 'while sitting at computer glute stretch'.

    You're right that it doesn't take long. Might see Dr. Lau out of pocket and fewer headaches for Coach Tom ;)

  4. Oooh yes. Post-run stretching is key. I once had a phase where I stopped stretching afterwards (sadly, it was a phase in which I really upped my training, so I NEEDED to stretch, but because I was spending more time running, I felt like I didn't have time) and it took about six weeks for a lovely achilles injury to develop. Duuuh.

    Glad you're discovered the magic of stretching, and really hope it helps!!

  5. Hi Ewen, I'm pretty sure Dr. Lau wouldn't mind if I stopped pinging him with emails and needing to see him every week. I know you're right about Coach Tom. He doesn't need more headaches:)

    Thanks, Harriet. I wish I had learned this lesson sooner. I seem to like to learn things the hard way, though. I am impressed that you were able to link the lack of stretching to the achilles injury. That seems to me to be the hardest thing to do--connect cause and effect. Whether this helps me with this problem or not, it's a great habit to get into.