Good stretches for an inflexible fellow?
June 17, 2008 8:24 AM   Subscribe

I went to see my doctor yesterday for a running injury (IT band). He says that basically I'm fit but that I have the "flexibility of a two-by-four". He wants me to do a stretching regimen three times a day — more if possible. He showed me a couple of stretches, but I'd like to do more. Can you recommend any good individual stretches or stretching routines, especially for a novice runner (and especially for one having trouble with his IT band)? YouTube clips a HUGE plus. Yoga's fine, but there's now way in hell I can do the pigeon pose (I have the flexibility of a two-by-four, remember?).
posted by jdroth to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
this is my favorite IT band stretch.

You might want to also look into self-massage to loosen up tight IT bands. Especially if you're inflexible, using a foam roller or a beaded stick can be really helpful. Take a look at your shoes, too, and try some strength work for the abductors for prevention.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:43 AM on June 17, 2008

Why don't you start your runs with some simple yoga poses (the pigeon pose is way too challenging). The thing to remember about yoga is that it is designed to be cumulative, in other words, the poses go in a certain sequence to prepare you for the more difficult poses. I would start with some sun salutations (A) and then go to (B) sun salutations. If you do them correctly they will be a gentle way of opening your hips, stretching your torso and loosening your hamstrings. Your flexibility will be great aided if you learn to do the appropriate breathing at the same.
posted by zia at 8:44 AM on June 17, 2008

Why not find a beginner's yoga class and try it out? After you've gotten the hang of some of the poses, you can do them yourself at home.

I also had the flexibility of a two-by-four, but after 4 months of going to yoga class regularly, I'm now finding myself doing crazy things like pigeon pose and the splits. :)
posted by at 8:54 AM on June 17, 2008

JD, check out The Egoscue Method. I had an IT band injury that knocked me out of training for one marathon and was in the process of killing my training for another until I had them analyze my posture. They do an analysis (you can send them pictures online) and will give you a customized set of stretches that you can do to help improve your flexibility and biomechanics.

IT band injuries are commonly blamed on overuse, but mine only went away when I looked at straightening my posture out and getting my body in better alignment. I went from debilitating IT band pain to running full-strength again in a week. Just do the option where you send them pictures to analyze (the in-clinic visits are more helpful but are really expensive). Tell them you are specifically having IT band issues and I'm positive they'll be able to help if you're disciplined about doing the stretches.
posted by PFL at 8:56 AM on June 17, 2008

And I'd definitely suggest Yoga as well. A lot of the stretches Egoscue prescribes are yoga-ish in nature and I have no doubt that regularly taking yoga classes would yield similar results in the long-term.
posted by PFL at 8:57 AM on June 17, 2008

I too have the flexibility of a two-by-four, at least on my right side. My trainer swears by foam core rolling, as do many others I've met. He said he had to stop running because of injuries until he discovered the foam roller, and now he can run again.

I've done it in the past and it's painful, but it works.
posted by Evangeline at 9:01 AM on June 17, 2008

I second the foam core rolling. It got me back up and running after months of PT and doctors visits that didn't do anything to help. It drives me nuts the amount of money I spent at the doctor when a $20 piece of foam was what worked.
posted by HoldFast at 9:17 AM on June 17, 2008

Response by poster: I've got a foam roller, and I used it this morning, but I don't know that I'm doing it right. Or long enough. Plus it hurts. I basically rest my hip on the roller, and then roll from hip to knee slowly, pausing at any spot that feels especially painful to roll back and forth for thirty seconds or so. I did three sets of this on each side, and each set lasted a couple minutes...
posted by jdroth at 9:29 AM on June 17, 2008

I was also very non-stretchy, and I was blown away by how effective yoga was at improving the situation. You would need to take a beginner class from a decent instructor rather than trying to go it alone, though. You want someone helping you to do the poses in the right way for someone at your level (the typical thing that beginners will do is to resort to bad form to get deeper into the pose than they really can).
posted by madmethods at 9:31 AM on June 17, 2008

"there's now way in hell I can do the pigeon pose"

Here's a much easier modification for pigeon pose.

Sit on a chair with both feet on the floor.

Leave your left foot on the floor, and cross your right ankle over your left thigh. The ankle should be just outside your left thigh, the right leg should be parallel to the floor, and your right shin should be more or less perpendicular to your left thigh.

If you are comfortable here, slowly lean forward until you feel a gentle stretch in your right butt-cheek. Hang out and breathe until you feel it start to relax somewhat. Repeat on the other side.

In general, remember stretching is not a warm-up. Stretching is something you do after your muscles are warmed up. Try to make a habit of at least doing some easy range-of-motion exercises to get your blood flowing and your muscles warm before you start your stretching routines.
posted by tdismukes at 9:46 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @tdismukes

This is how unstretchy I am. When I cross my right ankle over my left thigh, I can't get my right leg parallel to the floor. That's okay, though -- I still get the stretch you're talking about. Thanks. I'll have to add that to the mix...

And I'll have to start with the yoga...
posted by jdroth at 9:54 AM on June 17, 2008

That's just what the foam roller should feel like! Sounds to me like you're doing it right. It will get better--when I started using mine I couldn't hold back the yelps of pain, but eventually it just felt nice.

There's a really nice stretch for your IT and hips--I couldn't find a good picture so I'll try to describe. Stand straight and cross one leg in front of the other, and then lean to the side of the uncrossed leg--you should feel your IT band POP over your joint.

Try #3 on this page; all of these, especially #8 and #9; and this yoga stretch.
posted by min at 9:59 AM on June 17, 2008

Sounds like you're doing well on the foam roller. I have really tight IT bands and it hurts like a MOFO to roll them out.

Try putting your front foot flat on the floor, then rolling your underside leg up and down the roller (no idea if that makes sense). You can also use it to roll out your backside by laying directly on top of it or rolling against a wall.
posted by mynameisluka at 10:21 AM on June 17, 2008

"When I cross my right ankle over my left thigh, I can't get my right leg parallel to the floor."

That's fine. As long as you still feel the stretch in your butt cheek, it's doing the job. If you do the stretch gently but consistently, eventually it will work down to parallel.
posted by tdismukes at 11:00 AM on June 17, 2008

Cynthia Kereluk always does a few minutes of stretching before her cardio workout, and she always gives some good information about what's going on with your various ligaments and muscles (as well as safety tips):
Here's one clip
Here's another
One more
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:02 AM on June 17, 2008

Be careful when foam rolling that you're not rolling your hip joint right over it - you should roll up to that point

Also make sure you are rolling where your IT band attaches to your knee

make sure you are stretching your hamstrings and glutes as well, it's all a chain and it's all interconnected.
posted by chickaboo at 12:00 PM on June 17, 2008

Get an instructor. Ignore what you see here and internet video etc. Get someone who will look at what you can and can't do and adjust so you can get to a "can do" place. They will show you how to fix things so you can start to approximate the poses without hurting yourself and keep working until you don't need props.

I fell into Iyengar style yoga which focuses a lot on precision of form and less on meditative process. It struck me as far less snake oil than and far more structural understanding and made a huge difference for me. From your profile, it says you are in Portland, so a quick Google of "Portland Iyengar Yoga" turned up this.
posted by plinth at 3:08 PM on June 17, 2008

Bikram's yoga is on its way to healing my IT band after way too much running. Seem to be plenty of options in Portland.

Though it depends on each individual teacher, there's a lot less touchy-feely, hippie stuff and a lot more physical, "holy cow I'm getting a workout and getting healthy."

Better than drugs.
posted by GPF at 7:28 PM on June 17, 2008

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