I started running again and I need to get flexible ASAP
April 18, 2012 6:26 AM   Subscribe

What is the fastest and most effective way to get limber/flexible again? I'm middle-aged and was a life-long runner until I switched to bicycling about 5 years ago. Biking didn't do it for me so I'm running again and training for a 10K that's only a month away. I never had any flexibility problems before but now my hamstrings and butt muscles are very tight. My stride's a lot shorter than it used to be and I'm having some minor back pain and stiffness that might be related to my tightness.

I use to stretch carefully and even practiced some yoga long before it became fashionable. But right now I need a quicker fix with specific stretches or exercises if you've got them. I'm also willing to go to a massage therapist if it will really help. I don't want to stop running again but I also don't want to get hurt.
posted by 14580 to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I want to add that I've been trying to stretch whenever I can, but it doesn't seem to be working like it used to.
posted by 14580 at 6:33 AM on April 18, 2012

STretch both before *and* after your runs. If possible, in the shower; I find the heat helps.
posted by notsnot at 6:44 AM on April 18, 2012

Best answer: foam rolling. if you train at a gym they probably have then laying around. If not, you can buy one-they're rather minimally priced at amazon, etc. I like the long, black, high density ones. And lots of youtube videos will show you exactly what to do. If foam rolling hurts, you're doing it right.
posted by atomicstone at 6:49 AM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding foam rolling. And, yes, it'll be Very uncomfortable at first, and be sure to get your IT band, it's a frequent problem.

My favorite stretches for the back/hips/butt are the pigeon (from yoga), or the figure four stretch, or the same thing on your back - anything for the gluteus medius.

Rather than a massage therapist, I saw a trainer at my gym a few times. He gave me lots of stretches and exercises to do as "prehab" for running - things that would help me keep from getting injured. They were basically a bunch of abs and leg stretches, and they did the trick. It was only when I let them slide that I ended up hurting myself and needing to go to the foam rollers. Which are like massage therapy, only faster and hurtier.
posted by ldthomps at 7:06 AM on April 18, 2012

Best answer: I had really terrible hamstring and hip flexibility when I was first trying to learn to squat. Some of what I learned that worked for me:

If you're going to be doing any static stretching with muscles that aren't warmed up. Also, static stretching before a workout increases risk of injury. Dynamic stretching is much better, and if I remember my sources correctly, much more effective for developing flexibility.

I did a whole lot of reading and research, because that's what my nerd brain loves, picked some good movements and put them together into a workout and did that at least 3 times a week.

I did hip circles, leg swings, lunges and lateral lunges, body-weight squats, that sort of thing. I was working on my chest flexibility and tightness at the same time, so I did arm circles, windmills, all that stuff I did in elementary school PE. Those leg movements are great because you're stretching out tons of muscles with one movement. Not only your hamstrings, but the whole hip complex as well.

It was actually a pretty fun workout. Now that I'm thinking of it I might add it to my exercise rotation.

I've heard that many people have excellent results using a foam roller. I think they're about $25 on amazon.

If you have a typical office job where you're sitting all day, it's likely that your hip flexors are overtight, and your extensors and glutes are too loose (in comparison. it's all about balance). So you might look up some info on "glute activation".

If you're having that minor lower back pain, it could be because of that muscle imbalance, because it puts extra strain on those muscles to keep your posture and form in place. It could also be that your lower back is a little weaker than it should be. Either way, it's important to figure out while the pain is still minor. Pain is the body's messenger and warning system, and if you don't listen it will start telling you something's wrong louder and louder until the problem is harder to fix, or until you injure yourself.

Do you do any form of strength training? I think it's important cross training for most serious endurance sports. Running in particular has a high rate of overuse and stress injury, and strength training protects against that. It would also be necessary to correct any muscle imbalances you might have picked up along the way, either from a desk job, previous running, or cycling. I would at least consider it for your overback, which is already strained. Because running is such a full-body activity that uses so much core stability, I think the full body movements would be really good for your situation. I'd say freeweights, because they tend to involve more of the stabalizer muscles to hold you in place, which is closer to what you're doing when you're running. Lunges, squats (if you know how), deadlifts (again, only safe if you do it right), bench step ups. I'd be careful if you use a leg press machine, because a lot of people don't quite use the right form and end up hurting their lower back. These are all movements I learned on my own with my own makeshift home gym. I started just with dumbells, and eventually bought an actual barbell. It doesn't take up much space and wasn't expensive.

The lower back pain could also be aggravated by posture. Even if you're using good running posture, if your back is weak in comparison to your chest (or too weak in general) it gets tired out much quicker. If this might be the case, think about doing some rows and pullups.

If none of that sounds like something you want to do, pick up an appropriately sized dumbell and do some dumbell swings and snatches. They're tons of fun, and great for you.
posted by f_panda at 7:36 AM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I recommend following MobilityWOD. Given your exercise background and description of back/butt stiffness, you very likely have a hip mobility deficit, which can be remedied with consistent work such as this. Glute strengthening will also help.

It greatly behooves anyone with athletic pursuits to be become conversant in the basics of functional anatomy, which allows self-diagnosis and treatment of common injuries (and proto-injuries). Cressey & Robertson's Neanderthal No More is both an excellent primer on posture and a program of targeted corrective exercise for the commonest problems.

The Gait Guys also offer some excellent insights into running mechanics, albeit not all of it layman-friendly, though you can get a sense of some common gait dysfunctions, e.g. cross-over stride, which the glute-deficient are prone to.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 8:08 AM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Active-Isolated Stretching is pretty remarkable. I'm sure there's plenty of stuff on the web, but this book is pretty good. If you're near Rockville, MD I can suggest a magician massage therapist who uses AIS.
posted by callmejay at 8:14 AM on April 18, 2012

This may sound like a strange suggestion, but it has really worked for me: incorporate a few, brief stretches here and there to your daily routine.

For instance, when you get out of the shower, dry off then spend a few minutes doing your favorite leg stretches. At lunch time, close your office door and spend a minute or two doing your least favorite leg stretches. Do your normal running/strength/etc. workout and stretch routine. Then again, before bed, spend another few minutes doing simple stretches.

There's no need to push any of these extra stretches to the point of pain or stress. I've found that it's the frequency and regularity that boost the effects of the more concentrated stretching activities that you do as part of your normal workout.
posted by skye.dancer at 12:04 PM on April 18, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks! I'm going to buy a foam roller and try adding it and many of your other suggestions to my routine. What used to work for me doesn't any more and it looks I've got to learn some new tricks.
posted by 14580 at 12:25 PM on April 18, 2012

And before you buy a foam roller, consider the rumble roller. It's far superior than a regular foam roller at loosening up my hamstrings, and it has done nothing short of miracles on my super tight calves.
posted by tatiana131 at 8:17 PM on April 18, 2012

It could be an issue with your shoes.

Are you wearing running shoes when you go running? When was the last time you replaced your shoes? Did you buy them at a running store or somewhere else?

Just some things to consider.
posted by emilynoa at 11:27 AM on April 19, 2012

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