I'm a serial offender when it comes to not prioritizing stretching in my routine. I'll find every excuse not to unroll that yoga mat and stretch out my tight quads and hamstrings after a run or strength training session.
I know I'm not the only one, but the benefits of regular stretching include an improvement in athletic performance, a decrease in the risk of injury and muscle soreness, and better posture. So why aren’t we doing it more?
My most common excuse is “I don’t have time.” I’ll fit a run in first thing, before taking my dog for a walk, and downing a coffee to be at my desk for 9 am, where I’ll sit (and stand — check out the best standing desks here) working all day. Spending five minutes stretching feels like an impossible task. So for the past month, I’ve tried a new tactic — doing a simple quad stretch while brushing my teeth. Read on to find out what happened.
Looking for more stretching inspiration? Here’s the lower-back stretch to add to your routine everyday if you suffer from lower back pain, plus a step-by-step guide on how to do a cat-cow stretch.
I did this simple stretch every day for a month — here’s what happened
Like many runners, I am very quad dominant — I have to really think about engaging my glutes and hamstrings when I run. Often, quad dominance is more prevalent in runners who follow high-mileage plans, avoid hill training, or do a lot of miles on the treadmill. For me, a lower-back injury and tight hip flexors have led to a slight pelvic tilt, making it easier for me to engage the muscles at the front of my legs.
One way to cope with quad dominance is to stretch and foam roll the quads, hamstrings and IT band to relieve tension and tightness. It’s also important to work on glute activation exercises, to help the glutes ‘switch on’ before hitting the road — think deadlifts, glute bridges, and donkey kicks.
To address my tightness, I added a simple standing quad stretch to my daily routine for two minutes a day, by doing it when I brushed my teeth in the morning. To do the standing quad stretch, I’d ground my foot into the floor, tuck my pelvis in, and raise the opposite leg to my glute, holding onto the shin. I’d feel the stretch down the front of my quad on the bent leg, and I’d hold this for one minute (fortunately, my electric toothbrush buzzes halfway through the two-minute cycle, letting me know when to swap legs). It’s important in this stretch not to pull the knee backward or sideways.
On day one of my new toothbrush stretching routine, I found it hard to hold the stretch for the full minute — my quads were extremely tight, and even the stretch itself felt challenging. Yet as the days went by, the stretch became less challenging as my legs loosened up; the daily stretching was obviously working.
By the time I got halfway through the month, this had become a regular part of my routine, and I no longer thought about it. The second my electric toothbrush started, I’d pick my leg up and stretch. I also stopped holding onto the sink and engaged my core to balance on one leg as I brushed — why not add a mini core workout to your day before you’ve had your morning coffee?
On day 30 of my challenge, I did a 5K and ran my second-best time yet. I set my 5K PB in the height of lockdown, when I was training hard (because what else was there to do, right?), but after a month of regular stretching, I felt strong as I ran, and I managed to get that final kick in the last mile, without wearing racing shoes, or adjusting my training in any other way.
I’ll definitely continue to add daily stretches to my routine, as well as glute activations before I head out for a run, but for now, I’m looking for a new toothbrush challenge — perhaps squats, lunges, or side leg raises. I’ll report back next month.