Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Stop Slouching!": Lumbo Pelvic Stretches

This has been a long time coming. About a month ago, Jamie asked me about stretches for the IT band. And since I've been having so much trouble with my SI joint, I thought that this would be a good time to introduce some stretches for the lumbo-pelvic region (lower back and hips). These stretches will help relive or prevent low back pain, knee problems, and the general discomfort that comes along with tight muscles.

Cross one leg over the other above the knee. Draw both knees toward the chest with the hands on the lower leg. You should feel the stretch along the side of the leg from the knee to the hip. To increase the intensity of the stretch, move the hands closer to the ankles. This will increase the torque in the knee, which will give you a deeper stretch, but which also might aggravate your knee. This stretch is great for the IT band, but also stretches the hip rotators, especially the piriformis and the quadratus femoris.

Cross the right ankle over the opposite knee. Bend the left knee at about 90 degrees and grab onto the back of the thigh, reaching through the figure four of your legs to do it. If you're too inflexible to grab on to the back of your thigh, hold onto the ends of a belt, yoga strap, or rolled up towel wrapped around the back of your thigh. To increase the intensity of the stretch, pull your legs in to a deeper tuck (closer to your chest) and push your right knee away from your body (deeper external rotation at the hip). You should feel the stretch on the outside of your thigh into your butt. If you feel it on the front of your hips or in your groin, stretch the hip flexors and adductors, then try this one again. This stretch is for the gluteus maximus and the deep hip rotators.

This stretch is similar to the one above, but will allow a deeper stretch for the external hip rotators. Also? You might wanna warm up before you try this one. Follow the link for full instructions (better than I can do). Instead, here are some reminders: bend the forward leg if you need to, but work towards keeping that lower leg perpendicular to your body. Be sure that your hips are level; the extended hip will be prone to dropping. If you're very tight, you might want to support your hips with a folded towel or two. If this pose isn't a possibility for you at all, do this instead: sit with one leg extended in front of you and cross the opposite ankle over the knee. To increase the intensity of Pigeon, lower your upper body closer to the ground (without letting your hip drop).

A variation of the above stretches. Works on balance while stretching those tight hip rotators. Ankle over the opposite knee, stick your butt back, and lean forward towards both legs. Try to keep the back flat (i.e. not hunched).

If you are a triathlete and you think you don't need to do this stretch, you are 100% wrong. Between running, biking, and swimming, your hip flexors will become very very tight if not stretched out regularly. And that can throw your hips into imbalance. Which will throw your back out of whack. Which will eventually hurt you. So do this stretch.

Take a big step forward. Make sure your foot is far enough ahead of you that your knee won't stick out past your toes. Drop the back knee almost to the ground and scoop the hips up and forward (posteriorly tilt the pelvis). It should feel lie you're stretching your hip flexor muscles over the front of your hip bone. This stretch can be done with your rear foot on a table or chair to deepen the stretch and involve the quad more. You can also drop the back knee if your legs get tired from the balancing and lunging.

There are five muscles that aid in hip flexion. Two of the attach at the spine and hips. The other three attach at the hips and knees. If they get tight, they can pull your back, hips, and knees out of alignment. You can see how that would be very very bad for the main running structures of the body, right? So stretch out the hip flexors!

Technically speaking, you can't stretch the IT band; it's fascia, which means in order to loosen it up, you have to use a foam roller or get a massage. But you can stretch the muscle at its head (the tensor fascia lata, a hip flexor), and that's what this stretch targets. The stretch also gets at the glute medius.

Standing, cross the right leg over the left so that the feet are directly next to each other. Drop the right (front leg) hip and bend the right knee. Stick the left (back leg) hip out to the side. Try to keep the hips squared to the front; that should give you the most effective stretch. If it doesn't, slowly rotate your pelvis until you find the best stretch.

And so that is all that I have for you. This is by no means an exhaustive guide to lumbo-pelvic stretches. All the muscles in your body are integrated--they work together. And for that reason, if I really wanted to create a comprehensive stretching routine for lumbo-pelvic health, I would incorporate the whole body. In particular, I would also include stretches for the abdominals, the quadratus lumborem, the hamstrings, the quadriceps, and the calves. All integrated, I tell you. So remember that while these stretches are important, they're only part of a well-balanced stretching routine. In other words, make sure you stretch your whole body.

On that note, I've said it before and I'll say it again: try yoga! Find a good beginning yoga class or use a yoga video. It will prevent injuries (um, when done properly, as with everything) and contribute to overall health. And if you're in the Wichita area, let me know. Because I have the perfect yoga class for you.

I have this almost uncontrollable urge to end this post like this

(R.I.P. Don LeFontaine). But I hope this time has not been a waste for either of us.


  1. I have fallen in love with the pigeon pose lately. It does amazing things. That and rolling around with a tennis ball under my butt to work out some knots did wonders for my ITBS.

    I'm totally with you on the whole interconnected thing. I had heard it a million times but never really got it until after my half iron this year. I had this big knot that on the top of my foot that I couldn't get out by doing any foot/ankle stretches. Then, all of a sudden I stretch out my calves and it melts away like butter. :-)

    Oh and I'm going to my first yoga class in 4 years tomorrow and getting a massage next week. I'll be loose and limber before you know it.


    can I link it when/if I get my shit together?


  3. Oh man, MizFit. I would love that.

    And if you have any suggestions for further Stop Slouching articles, I'm always welcome to the input :-)

  4. Hey! Thanks for your comments. :) Also, you know the one about gyms being the new parks? Would you like to/please do a guest post on it? It sounds like you have thought about the issue a lot, and I'm all about the socioeconomics of exercise. [and keeping apples -- not McD's -- in the hands of the little ones, but that's another story lol]

    Lemme know! :) Great post, PS!

  5. Hi- this is great. Found you via MizFit. I'm currently injured in the medial quad due to lots of stress on the area because of TIGHT HIPS. Have you seen the Sage Roundtree podcasts for athletes? All those stretches I need to do daily! Glad I found you, I'll be back.

  6. Thanks, Rachel! It can be almost frustrating how much stretching we need to do as athletes. It's like the body can never get enough of it. But it feels so much better when all that is limbered up . . .

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