by Karli Taylor
Unless you live in complete isolation, you’re probably bombarded with advice about what you need to do to be a stronger, faster or better runner. The problem is, most of us have jobs, families and obligations and only have a limited amount of time to spend on our workouts, so how do you know what’s worth your time?
It would make sense to start by adding things that will prevent injury. Here’s where you expect me to say stretching is the answer, right? Yes. And no.
Stretching is indeed a piece of the puzzle, but it’s knowing what to stretch and what to strengthen that will make the difference in your running performance. Many runners have quadriceps muscles (front of the thigh) that are 30 to 40 percent stronger than their hamstrings (back of the thigh). In addition, they have quadriceps muscles that are 40-60 percent tighter than their hamstrings. Top performing runners, however, tend to have a hamstring-to-quadriceps ratio of about 1:1 in both strength and flexibility.
Let’s try to understand why. The running stride forces both the front and the back of the thigh muscles to contract in opposition. While the quads are lengthening, the hamstrings are shortening; and vice versa. In a well-oiled machine, the two muscle groups appear to work together most efficiently when their strength is about the same. In order for that to happen for most of us, the quads need to be lengthened and the hamstrings need to be strengthened.
Lizard pose, or Utthan Pristhasana, is the perfect pose to accomplish both of those goals while offering a wealth of other benefits including:
From a tabletop position (hands and knees), step your right foot forward and place it on the outside of your right hand. Bring the arch of your foot right next to your pinky finger. Keeping your knee directly over your ankle, press your inner thigh or inner knee against your shoulder or tricep. These opposing forces will help to engage the core and stabilize the pose.
Tuck the toes under on your left foot and straighten the leg completely. With your heel directly over the ball of your foot, press the back of your knee up toward the ceiling to keep the back leg active. Keep your arms straight and pull your collarbone through your upper arm bones to lengthen your spine and breathe fully.
If you want to deepen the hip opening of the pose, roll your front foot to the pinky-side edge so your arch peels up off of the floor. You can stay there, or take your hand and place it on your inner thigh to assist the hip opening more actively and rotate your torso toward the front leg.
To intensify the quad stretch in the back leg, flex your back foot and slowly pick it up off of the ground. Reach back for the foot with the opposite hand. Once you catch the foot, press the hips forward and breathe deeply.
Remember to keep your breath steady and full. Hip opening poses can be uncomfortable to stay still in, but by focusing on your breath, you may be able to find some ease inside of your discomfort.
Balance For Runners: Tree Pose or Vrksasana
Strengthening Your Back: Baddha Hasta Uttanasana, or Ragdoll
Combating Runner’s Butt - Ardha Matsyendra
Exercises to Help in Stability – Ananda Balasana
Stretching Hip Flexors – Anjaneyasana & Setu Bandha Sarvangasana