I took Alison Wohlfarth’s TRX/Pilates class at Mountainside Fitness, and boy did it work my booty… and arms… and abs. It also made me realize how imbalanced my body is. Some of my muscles are super strong, some are super flexible, and some are just plain ignored which can lead to a slew of complaints, especially low back pain. But help is here! Alison, who also teaches yoga and spin at Mountainside (she’s a quadruple threat with the body to match!), has broken it down for us so we can stretch those muscles that need it most – and say so long to lower back pain! Here are Alison’s picks for the most under-stretched muscles, plus the lengthening moves your body needs most…
The Iliopsoas. More commonly known as “the hip flexors.” Consisting of the iliacus and the psoas major, this bossy muscle group can be responsible for some big-time pain. And unfortunately, this group receives very little attention by the average gym-goer, leading to low back pain, limited range of motion and general unhappiness.
The Solution: A simple runner’s lunge with a few tweaks can work wonders for tight hip flexors. Set one knee down on a soft, cushioned surface. Keep the other leg up, coming into a kneeling runner’s lunge position. With your chest lifted, your abdominals and kneeling leg gluteal engaged, soften your hips toward the floor. By utilizing your breath – deep inhalations and controlled exhalations throughout the stretch – you’ll be able to eventually coax a tightened psoas into relaxing.
The Iliotibial Band. Referred to as the “IT Band,” this thick band of fibrous tissue runs down the outside of your leg from your pelvis to your knee. It acts as a liaison between some of the gluteal/hip muscles and the knee stabilizers. If it’s grumpy, you can end up with some fairly intense knee and/or hip pain. The Solution: If you have a towel, Pilates ring or a Thera-Band available, this supine stretch will allow you to easily access a tight IT Band. Lie on your back and loop the apparatus around your right foot. Extend the looped foot up to the ceiling while extending the left leg on the ground. Try to maintain a neutral pelvis. Extend your right arm laterally on the ground (acting as an anchor). Holding on to the towel, band or ring with your left hand, slowly drop the right leg towards the ground on the left.
The Quadriceps. These substantial, front-of-the thigh muscles consist of four distinct muscles (as you may have guessed from the name): vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis and rectus femoris. When the quads are tight, the hamstrings tend to weaken, the pelvis shifts out of proper alignment, and you end up with lower back pain.
The Solution: This is a fairly intense quad stretch. If you have unhappy knees, you may wish to avoid it and simply take a standing stretch. Fold up a towel or mat and place it at the baseboard of a wall. Kneel down and place your right knee on the towel, your right shin and top of the foot against the wall (you’re facing away from the wall). Now, bring your left foot forward and place it directly under your left knee in a lunge. Bring your torso upright by pressing your hands into your left thigh. You want to keep your torso in line with your stretching thigh.