by Karli Taylor
Since running is a forward movement, it seems logical to stretch the muscles that propel the body forward. What we often neglect, and what comes back to bite us in the long run, are the muscles that stabilize the sides of the body to keep us moving full speed ahead. These muscles become even more important during the winter months when it is more likely for us to lose our footing on uneven snow or slide on an icy surface.
This month we will focus on stretching the inner thighs (adductors) while strengthening and stabilizing the outer thighs (abductors).
The hip adductors are made up of five muscles whose primary role is to bring the hip and pelvic muscles back toward the midline, making them vital to medial knee stability. As we run, the contraction of the adductor or "groin" muscles aids in the anterior (forward) and posterior (backward) motion of your swing leg during your running stride.
Tight adductors can throw off the balance of power in your legs. As the adductor muscles grow tighter, the leg is more likely to swing inward compromising the efficiency of your stride If your adductors can't effectively do their job, your hamstrings will be recruited to pick up the slack, putting them at an increased risk of injury.
Ananda Balasana, or happy baby, is primarily a hip opening pose tha stretches the hip flexors and hip adductors, but also the glutes, the hamstrings, the lower back, the shins and the calves. If that’s not enough of a reason to give this one a try, it has also been proven to calm the brain and help relieve stress and fatigue!
Lie on your back and bend your knees in toward your belly. Position each ankle directly over the knee, so your shins are perpendicular to the floor. Flex your feet like you are trying to step on the ceiling and grab your feet from the outsides. If your feet aren’t within your reach, you can loop a belt or a towel around the arch of your feet and grab onto that.
In a perfect world, both your head and shoulder blades and your lower back will be on the ground. Until your back is flexible enough to achieve that, try to find a happy medium where you feel stable enough not to roll from side to side and grounded enough that your neck isn’t strained. To deepen the stretch, use your upper body strength and your breath. As you inhale, pull your feet back toward your face. As you exhale, pull down on your feet drawing your knees closer to the floor. Make sure that every breath is full and deed, and with every breath you move- even if its less than a millimeter.
Standing hip abduction is a seemingly simple exercise that works your outer thighs, and also challenges your core to stabilize your body. Try this exercise both before your run to wake up your outer thighs and then again after your run immediately after you perform happy baby. Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Raise one foot off the floor, and lift it out to your side up to a 45-degree angle, and then return to the starting point. Try to avoid leaning your body weight to the opposite direction. If need be, stand facing a chair or counter and place your hands gently on the surface for balance. After 10 to 15 repetitions, switch sides and repeat the exercise, aiming to finish two to three sets. For an added challenge, lift your leg against the resistance of an exercise band that's cuffed to the ankle of your working leg or do the exercise while balancing on and unstable surface like a rolled up towel.