Imagine this: It’s a clear, sunny day, and you are packing it in after a great day of skiing or snowboarding. You take off your gear, grab a snack, and hop into the car to head home. Everything is going well, until you finally get home and start to unload the car. Your hips feel tight, your thighs feel shaky, your calves feel stiff… Sound familiar? I know I’m not the only one to have experienced this!
With March Break ski and snowboard trips on the horizon, this is a good time to review a few lower body exercises that will help combat the familiar post-exercise achiness. Stretching helps to maintain (and improve) muscle length and flexibility, and also helps with injury prevention. Over the next couple of weeks, stay tuned for some lower body stretches to add to your après-ski/board routine! These can all be done in the lodge or outside your car, prior to heading home.
As a rule of thumb, with each stretch only go to the point where you first feel the pull through the muscle (there shouldn’t be any pain). Once you’ve found that point, hold the stretch for about 30 seconds, then progress a bit further, 2 more times, again holding for 30 seconds. Don’t forget to stretch both sides!
Let’s get started with our first stretch:
1. HIP FLEXORS (aka those little overworked muscles in the front of your hips)
These muscles help to flex the hip and bring the thigh closer to the chest. Tension in this area is especially noticeable after sitting for a prolonged period of time (say…in a car, bus or plane), and can even cause low back pain.
Before you start the stretch, you’ll most likely want to place some kind of padding on the ground for your knee to rest on (ie. A towel, snow pants…). Now you can comfortably adopt a lunge position, with one knee resting on the padding – this is the side you’ll be targeting with the stretch. The other leg should be bent in front of your body with the foot firmly planted on the ground. To increase the stretch, simply lean more into the lunge, opening up the front of your hip. You can also try reaching that same side arm above your head – can you feel how it opens up the front of the hip even more?
This stretch is most effective if performed resting on the ground, though it can be modified to a standing position as well (especially if the ground is wet or covered in snow).
2. QUADRICEPS (the big strong muscles that make up the front of your thighs)
This next stretch targets the muscles that help maintain the slight bend in your knees (or a squatted position). These muscles get a great workout while you’re on the slopes.
The stretch can be performed standing, lying on your stomach, or lying on your side (though if in a ski lodge, standing is probably the easiest!). First, slowly flex the knee, bringing the foot towards the buttocks. Make sure that the knee is in line with the hips and that the stretch leg is held close to the other knee. Grab just above the ankle joint (rather than the foot), to maintain the stretch. (Holding at the foot will target the muscles that cross the front of the ankle more than those in the front of the thigh.)
If you are doing this stretch standing up right and are having trouble balancing, find a wall that you can stand beside for support.
Stay tuned for our next post to learn how to stretch two muscle groups on the back side of our legs – the calves and hamstrings!