When it comes to stretching, we all know it’s important, but it’s often the first thing to go when life gets busy. Generally, we view the workout as more important than stretching out, even though we usually regret that decision when sore muscles or injuries strike.
Deanna McCurdy is an athlete, mother, coach, and founder of and “head cheerleader” for Team Miles for Smiles. She knows very well what it’s like to be busy. While she is known for being an excellent triathlete – she was 2017 Ms. XTERRA and is a two-time Pan Am amateur champ – Deanna was first and foremost a trail runner. We recently caught up with her to learn what she views as the most important stretch for runners.
“For me, it's an ongoing battle to keep the psoas behaving,” said Deanna. “I love running up hills but I tend to lean too far forward and overuse my quads and hip flexors rather than "sitting" into the hill in a more upright position and making my glutes do more of the work.”
As a result, Deanna suffers from both tight hip flexors and quads and tight hamstrings. It might seem counterintuitive that tight hip flexors also result in tight hamstrings, but the relationship between the psoas and the hamstrings is a complex one.
McCurdy explains that when the psoas (the biggest and strongest of the hip flexor muscles) is tight – which can happen from sitting as well as from running up hills – the nervous system often “turns off” the glutes, which means they stop firing. If the glutes aren’t working as they should, the hamstrings then fill in and often become tight, overused, and sometimes strained.
“When I've experienced chronic hamstring issues, the biggest thing for me was teaching my glutes to fire again,” said Deanna. “Yoga helped immensely, but so did holding a prolonged quad and hip flexor stretch for up to five minutes while focusing on deep, relaxing breathing. It’s a great thing to do while watching TV. The longer hold of the stretch, the better.”
Once the psoas stops holding tension, the glutes are able to contract and fire again. You can teach the glutes to fire and retrain them by doing glute squeezes, leg bridges on your back, and lunges where you really concentrate on squeezing the glute as you come back up to standing.
Deanna’s Favorite Psoas Stretch
- If you are stretching your right psoas, then bring your right knee down and keep your left foot flat on the floor, about a foot or two in front of your knee. Make sure that your left knee is directly over your left ankle and that your shoulders, right hip, and right knee are in one line.
- With your right hand, reach back and pick up your right foot so that the top of your foot is resting in the palm of your hand. Resist the urge to collapse your shoulders by keeping your spine long and upright.
- Instead of holding your back foot, you can press it against a wall or couch behind you. Putting a pillow under your knee can alleviate pressure on the joint.