When I ran Cross Country and Track in High School, I thought stretching your quads, calves, and hamstrings were all you needed to do to prevent injuries. Now, 12 years later, I’ve learned that continued athletic performance relies on one’s commitment to keeping your body limber and prevent injury. Thankfully, there are far more techniques and tools that can be utilized than my high school self believed.
Since my youth, I have been introduced to a foam roller, massage sticks, and massage balls (aka tennis ball) and learned about key muscles in my sport such as hip flexors, glutes, abductors, and IT bands.
When I say “injury” I’m referring to little nagging injuries (such as a tight muscle) or overuse injuries (such as tendonitis). Over my career (so far) I’ve dealt with patellar tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, osgood slaughter, peroneal tendon pain, calf pain, hamstring pain, groin pain, achilles pain, and the list goes on. In the past when I was injured I would start stretching the muscles around the area of pain and hoped that it relieved my symptoms. For example, if I had calf pain I would use a foam roller and stretch my calf like crazy. When my injury went away I would go back to my old habits and did not consider changing my stretching routine.
Today I have changed my habits so I’m more “proactive” instead of “reactive” when it comes to injury prevention. There was one particular injury last year that has led to my daily stretching and recovery routines. In August, I experienced calf pain a few days before the Michigan Titanium (MiTi) race. I was planning on doing the Half Iron distance at MiTi. I did everything I could to relieve my calf pain before the race. I foam rolled and stretched my right calf in every possible way. Unfortunately I still had calf pain leading up to the race. The day before the race I had to drop out of the half Iron distance and instead registered for the Full Aquabike distance. The Aquabike was a swim-bike Ironman distance so I could avoid running, which aggravated my calf.
I ended up having a great race at MiTi but it still bugged me that I had a nagging injury that seemingly came out of nowhere. In addition, I wanted to be injury free since I was racing in Kona in mid October. As luck would have it, when I was at MiTi I met a licensed massage therapist and I scheduled a massage appointment the following week.
At the massage appointment, I expected the therapist to work on my right calf for the majority of the time. Instead he worked on my entire body and only spent a few minutes on my calf. The massage included stretching and massage of my quads, hamstring, glutes, lower back and back muscles. Later that day when I went for a run, I did not have any calf pain!
That experience helped me recognize the connections in the body’s muscular structure. My therapist and I believed that the calf pain was likely due to very tight quads/hip flexors which caused my hips to tilt forward. When my hips tilted forward it caused my hamstring to become tight which pulled on my calf. As a result I felt pain in my calf since it was the “weaker” muscle. The calf was the symptom but the cause was likely my quad and hip flexor.
I’ve continued to get massages on a regulator bases to prevent further injuries and also to learn more about my body. My stretching routine has included static stretching and rolling. When I stretch I go in a order of priority as shown in the list below.
My first priority is to stretch my quads and hip flexors unless there is a particular area that is bothering me. My quads take the most pounding from biking and running so this gets the most attention. My hip flexors are always tight from being in a seated position at work and on the bike.
Below are a few quad stretches that I do on a regulator basis.
Quad Foam Roll – use roller to roll up and down the quad to find tight areas. Keep roller on a tight area to help it relax. Try not to force it to make it
Med Ball Quad Stretch – rest leg on ball, push knee away from body, and raise foot up to get a further stretch. Repeat this cycle 5 to 10 times.
Cross-Leg Glute stretch