Last week we took a look at the benefits of Fascial Stretch Therapy and how it can improve your running. In a nutshell, FST is assisted stretching that targets the fascia and joints as well as the muscles. It is pain-free, and uses breath, traction, and modified PNF to improve flexibility and increase range of motion, which can translate to better performance and reduced risk of injury.
As great as FST is, in order to maintain the benefits there are certain stretches that should be done at home, on your own. Or, if you don’t have access to a Fascial Stretch Therapist, these at-home stretches use the principles of FST to help you achieve increased flexibility and range of motion on your own.
In March I attended a course called LifeStretch so that I could teach these stretches in a group setting. The stretches that I’m showing you today, called the “Core Four,” are taught in class. They are also the stretches that Fascial Stretch Therapists give to their own clients so that they can do their “homework” between sessions.
These four stretches help improve flexibility in the hip region, specifically the hip flexors, glutes (including the deep rotators), the quadratus lumborum, and the lats. While FST focuses on the body as a whole interconnected entity, starting with these four core stretches creates the building blocks for a program that can be integrated with other stretches based on your specific needs.
One of the principles of Fascial Stretch Therapy is to synchronize breath with movement, so I will also cue breathing in the instructions below. Basically, the idea is to inhale as you prepare for a stretch, then exhale as you move deeper into the stretch.
Always remember that these stretches are designed to be pain-free, so the goal is not to move so deeply into a stretch that you cause pain or even discomfort.
If you are performing these stretches following a run or other workout, do them slowly, breathing deeply through the movements. Don’t “hold” the stretches, instead, keep flowing and undulating through the movements. We call this the Stretch WaveTM. This routine can also be done prior to your workout, simply change it up by moving more quickly through the stretches.
One of the key points of LifeStretch and FST is to know where you are before you start so that you can see your own improvement. Before even sitting down, take a moment to assess how you are feeling. Reach up to the ceiling, stretch to the side. Any tightness or soreness? Reach down and touch your toes (or your knees..remember, no pain). Roll on up. How did that feel? Now sit back into a squat. Just notice how you feel, any tightness, imbalance, either from left to right or from back to front. Now have a seat.
To continue your assessment and to warm your hips, sit with your legs in front of you with your knees bent. Your feet should be a little wider than hip-width, and your knees should be at about a 75-90 degree angle. Drop your knees first to the right, then to the left. Don’t force it, just notice how it feels, how far you can move. Do this several times. You can go a little deeper each time if it feels right.
Now, sit with your right leg in front of you with your knee bent, your left leg behind you with the knee bent. Your right foot can lightly rest on your left thigh (if that is comfortable). Your chest should be centered directly over your right knee. Place a hand on each side of your front knee about shoulder width apart.
Start by inhaling and lengthening your spine. Reach the top of your head toward the ceiling. Then exhale and move forward over your knee. Not all the way at this point, we’re still warming up. Inhale and lengthen, then exhale and bend forward over you knee again, maybe a little bit lower if that feels comfortable. Let’s stay here a moment, moving slowly from side to side, breathing regularly. Then inhale has you roll up and lengthen your spine again.
As you exhale, lower yourself again over your knee. If it feels right, lower to your forearms. Inhale, then as you exhale walk your arms to the left until you feel a gentle stretch in your glutes. As you inhale, come back to the center. Exhale and walk your arms to the right, inhale back to the center. This time, as you move to your left, reach with your right arm. Feel how this increases the stretch in your lateral line. Inhale to the center, then exhale, move to your right and reach with your left arm. Repeat this once or twice more. Then return to the center and round back up to seated.
Stretching: QL (Quadratus Lumborum)
From your seated position (keeping your legs in the same position), place both arms on your right with the elbows straight. Inhale and move slightly forward, bending your left elbow a little. This effectively removes any stretch from the position. Then exhale and turn your upper body to the right, straightening the left elbow, looking over your right shoulder. Inhale move forward, bending the left elbow again. Repeat a couple time. If it feels right, you can move your arms back a little each time to increase the stretch. Just remember…no pain!
Stretching: Hip Flexors
From your previous position, bend your right elbow and come down to your forearm. Make adjustments to your left leg so that you can feel a slight stretch in your hip flexors (the top of your thigh). This can usually be accomplished by moving the leg back slightly and/or pushing your hips forward slightly.
Inhale and rotate your upper body forward and reach your left arm underneath your body (see photo) in the space between your right arm and your body. Exhale as you turn slightly to look up at the ceiling. Remember that this is a hip flexor stretch, so small movements to your lower body can enhance the stretching. Repeat once or twice.
From the last position, as you exhale back into your last hip flexor stretch, extend your left arm up and back. Inhale as you start to turn your body to face the ground, then exhale, reaching with your left arm to provide some self-traction. Inhale as you bring your arm through. Repeat once or twice more.
Stretching: Reassess and Repeat on the other Side
Sit up and repeat your seated assessment from above. Do you feel any changes? Maybe a little looser on one side? Now do the stretches on the other side, followed by a final assessment. How do you feel?
You can also take a moment to stand and reassess your standing movements. Even though you haven’t completed the whole class you may notice a difference.
The video below is actually a series of photos, but it should give you a sense of the movements of the Core Four. Please feel free to ask for any clarification in the comments.
Do these stretches regularly (daily or at least several times a week) and you will feel a difference in your hip mobility and range of motion. For more information on Fascial Stretch Therapy and the Core Four, the book Stretch to Win (<–affiliate link) by Ann and Chris Frederick is an excellent resource.
All of these stretches were developed by Ann and Chris Frederick of the Stretch to Win Institute. While I am certified to teach them in a group setting or on a one-on-one basis, I am not your instructor or therapist. Always adapt workouts to suit your body and fitness level. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.
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