Flexibility — Common Leg Problems

Are you one of those people who looks like an old man when you are trying to run? To people see you on the street running and ask you if you need medical assistance? Do your legs hurt when you run or bike? Does your IT Band flare up every time you pound the pavement? Well, this feature may be for you.

What this Feature Does
I am going to start with one of the most common issues that plague runners and bikers: hamstring and IT Band issues. While some of these stretches may help you out, I would suggest that if you are having chronic problems, please go ask your doctor or physical therapist for advice. If you are looking to just improve your flexibility, then please feel free to read on.

How to Start
I have had the best results with improving my flexibility by incorporating some of the instruction one of my old yoga teachers. You need to warm-up before you get into the deeper stretches, so make sure you don’t start this program cold. I would also suggest you breath into the stretches, meaning once you hit what you feel is the furthest point that you can handle, take a deep breath and move deeper into the stretch as you exhale. It just does your body good. So let’s start the stretches.

IT Band Stretch
My IT Bands get tight when I am biking a ton and start ramping up my running distance and speed. This stretch can help alleviate some knee pain when it is due to a tight IT Band. Start off sitting down with your legs extended in front of you. Cross the leg you want to stretch over your other leg like this:

My brother Jake has really tight IT Bands, so he has a hard time with this stretch. You can either put your arms under your crossed leg and pull it towards your chest or move your trunk down towards the leg. Either way, make sure you breathe into the stretch. Here is how it looks as you move the leg towards your chest:

Standing Hamstring Stretch
We all know how to stretch our hamstrings when we are sitting on the ground or the basic bend at the waist stretch. But I like this stretch because I can feel it deeper than either of the two previous stretches. I find that a runner with poor form who works on the flexibility of their hamstrings can really open up their gait and improve their efficiency greatly. Add it to your stretching routine to see how it helps loosen up your hamstrings.

Start this stretch by standing straight up. Remember to engage your quads so that you protect your hamstrings. Put one foot out in front of you by about a step. Bend the knee in the back foot and bend at the waist, running your hands down your front leg. You should feel the stretch in your front leg. Because of his shorts, it is a little tough to see, but this gives you a good idea of what it should look like:

Hurdler Stretch
I love this stretch because I can control how deep it goes. It targets the quads in a big way. I work this stretch as much as I can, especially after doing butt kickers or hills.

Sit on the ground and put your feet out in front of you like this:

Tuck one of your feet up by your butt like this:

You can see Jake leans back really far, which is what he can handle. He could modify this stretch by putting the top of his foot on the ground instead of flaring it out. It just stretches out the front of his leg if his makes that small modification.

Soleus Stretch
Everyone stretched out their calves by working on their gastrocnemius, or the meaty part of their calf. That is only half of the battle. You need to make sure you stretch out your soleus. I think this stretch helps me when my Achilles Tendon gets tight and sore. You have to be careful — make sure you don’t go too deep and injure yourself.

Like the Standing Hamstring Stretch, start this stretch standing up and take one step forward. Bend your front leg and you will start feeling the stretch in your gastroc. Here is how it should look:

How bend your back knee and you will start to feel the stretch below the gastroc and into your Achilles Tendon. This is what it will look like:

You can also do this against the wall if your quads won’t handle the stress.

Final Word
You need to make sure you include flexibility into your regimen. There are lots of resources on the web an in print to help you improve your flexibility, but I wanted to help you guys understand what works for me. Feel free to share this with all your friends and make me as famous as you want.

About the Author

I have been participating in running and triathlons for 10 years and love the feeling that training provides. You may not agree with me, but you know you just can't look away...