Stretching - Activation Strategy

Stability Stretching Series™: For Runners

The Stability Strategy to Improve Running Efficiency

Functional Hip Flexor and Calf Stretch

Lengthen the hip flexors and calves while activating the anterior chain muscles (abdominals and hip flexors);
Maintain neutral alignment of the trunk, spine, and pelvis

Why is this important?
Generally, runners perform stretches prior to their run without any thought about their alignment or consideration for activating muscles while in the running position. One of the most important functions of any pre-run routine should be to prepare the nervous system for running by activating certain muscles while lengthening other muscles while under control. In the following example, you will be activating the abdominal wall and the anterior chain muscles of the moving leg (hip flexor and ankle dorsiflexor) and lengthening the hip flexor and calf of the stationary leg while maintaining neutral alignment of your trunk, spine, and pelvis.

Common mistake: 
Not performing the appropriate pre-running routine.

Stability Stretching Strategy™

  1. Stand facing a wall and align your trunk and pelvis so that your pelvis is tilted slightly anterior (forward) and there is a small, gentle arch in your low back . Your hip, knee, ankle and feet should be in a straight line. You should imagine a string attached to the back of your head gently pulling you towards the ceiling. Maintaining this alignment, place your hands against a door or wall and slowly lean forward without losing alignment of your trunk, spine, and/or pelvis (Image 1, top left). 
  2. You will lift one knee towards the wall and pull up your foot while maintaining the set up position (Image 2, top right). Gently push the heel of the standing leg into the floor. Hold for 5 seconds and slowly put the leg back down. Repeat on the other side for 3-5 reps per side.
  3. Avoid over-arching your back in the set up position (Image 3, bottom left) and/or raising your leg so high that you rotate your pelvis back and round your back (Image 4, bottom right).

Remember: Don’t confuse sensation with effectiveness!
Don’t try to force this stretch in order to ‘feel’ a stronger stretch in your hip flexor. Straining to ‘feel’ a deeper stretch is not the best way.  Your nervous system will lengthen your hip flexor as much as it needs to when you respect the proper alignment and control of your core.  It is optimal stability that comes from careful stretching that will improve your posture and running more significantly than will having great flexibility without the requisite stability.