The 30 Day Stretch Challenge for Endurance Athletes

Suz Stokes

Suz Stokes

Founder of the 35 Day Detox.

The 30 Day Stretch Challenge for Endurance Athletes

yoga stretching

Introduction from Suz “Before I started training seriously for Ironman I went through a month focusing on stretching my whole body out.  This, along with regular massage, prepared me to the intensity of the workouts to come.  It gave me a baseline to return to and I’m sure helped prevent training injuries.”

There is no need to be training for an Ironman though to benefit from these stretches.  Learn them and you’ll be able to incorporate them into everyday life.

*** We have published this series as an ebook – find it in the SHOP section now ***  

Day 1

thunderbolt pose

Modified thunderbolt or broken toe pose. May be called the former and could well be described as the later. If you haven’t tried this stretch go easy and start with 20-30 secs.  Work up to a minute over a few days. Start in a squat and then drop the knees to the ground. Use your hands if needed. If it’s difficult to sit back on the heels pop a cushion in between heels and butt for support.      

Day 2

Is a really good stretch for the top of the feet.  This variation of thunderbolt follows on from yesterday’s toe torture.  Flatten the feet and sit back on the heels.  Then gently roll back – placing the hands on the floor for support – and lifting the knees.  Hold for 20 – 30 secs.  Make sure you have a reasonably thick yoga mat or carpet so the foot isn’t bruised. Not only is this stretch a good counter for running and cycling where the foot is flexed so much, it’s also perfect for getting more length in the foot for the swim kick.    

Day 3

Time for a calf stretch.  Down dogs and forward folds are brilliant as part of a yoga session. Here’s an option though for when you’re too tired to actually get on your feet. Start on hands and knees. Tuck toes on the right foot to stretch the foot and then stretch out the left leg behind. Push through the hands to slightly lift and deepen the stretch.  Repeat on the other side. The big point here is that any knots need to be worked out (massage, foam roller, tennis ball) before stretching out the muscle. Otherwise you’re just making it all tighter!!   

Day 4

One for both the hamstrings and the calf muscles. Point the toes and the stretch will target the shins too.  Basically it’s an all round cool leg stretch. I usually add a few of these in whilst I’m doing low lunge variations.  So start in lunge and straighten the front leg as you bring the hips back. Flex the front foot. Use the hands for support and gently fold forward over the leg.  Hold for 3 to 5 long slow breaths. If you’re still working the toes you can tuck them under on the back foot. Too intense in the front leg then add a tiny bend to the knee to start with.  Aim for 3 times each side (interspersed with the low lunge).  

Day 5

Time to get serious with the quads.  A padded chair or the bed will work for this stretch. Bring the knee close to the bed and learn back into the foot. Step the other foot forward so knee is above ankle. Use the hands on leg for support. Pull the belly in to protect the lower back and don’t forget to breathe.  It’s one of those stretches that you can work up to 3 – 5 minutes over time. Best done late in the day when the muscles are warmed up from plenty of use. Actually that’s true of all these stretches. Use the sun salutations for any “just rolled out of bed” efforts.  

Day 6

Gate pose. This isn’t really a stretch I do on its own. More as part of a yoga sequence, but there’s no reason why we can’t. It’s a great stretch for the inner thigh yet that’s only a small part of it. We also get a stretch up through the side of the body, starting deep in the hip area. Kneel and engage quads and core for stability. Step the left leg out to the side. Keep the foot in line with the knee.  Place left hand on left leg for support and raise the right arm up. Stay here or lift the right arm higher as you tilt over towards the left leg, looking under the right armpit. Stay for a few breaths only and swap to the other side.  

Day 7

Time to tackle the IT band. Don’t know where it is, try this stretch and you will! Stand tall, cross the legs so that the feet line up (outside edges together), left in front of right. Stretch up and engage the core as you fold forward. Bring finger tips to the floor – walk the hands forward to flatten the back (if fingers don’t touch the floor bring them to the shins and stay at this point). Maybe that’s enough right there. Or keep the hips square as you walk the hands to the left. The stretch will be in the right IT band. Breathe and enjoy. There aren’t many classes/sessions that don’t include this stretch. It’s that good!  

Day 8

There was a better photo but the expression on my face says it all about this stretch. Half hero is great for the quads but it’s really intense. If there is any pain in the knee it’s not something you want to do. And that’s where I was for about 5 years. Recently though it’s become easier. If the hips are tight it will transfer to the stretch to the ankle too and that’s another good reason to come out and try something else. One thing I’ve learnt is there are many ways to get to the same end result so it’s really smart to choose the right stretch or pose and adjust accordingly.  

Day 9

And finally we get to the hips! Hope your legs are feeling lighter and a wee bit more flexible. For the photo I just used a random log but you can use your foam roller, a yoga block or a very thick book. Start out low and gradually increase the height of whatever you use. Place said block under the lower back – on the flat part. Bend the knees to start with and if that’s comfortable stretch out the legs. Bring the hands on the belly or raise them overhead (keeping the elbows on the floor for support). Hang out here for a few minutes. It’s a lovely stretch for the front of the hips. An area I have no end of problem with due to too much sitting, running and biking. I know I have a problem when I want to sleep curled up too!! When you’re finished gently remove the block and lie flat for a couple of minutes. Make sure the natural curve of the spine is reinstated.  

Day 10

Another one of my favourite stretches. A variation on cobra pose that I add to almost all flow sequences. It’s so easy to get focused on the main muscles and forget the supporting cast. And so often they’ll become the limiting factor in the stretch. Start lying flat with hands under shoulders. Push through the palms to lift the upper body up. Tuck elbows in and lower slightly. From here inhale deeply and as you exhale drop the left hip further into the mat and look over your right shoulder. Inhale back to the front and exhale and do the same to the other side. Repeat twice more to each side. This is a great stretch for the hip flexors and anywhere else that tight in the front of the body.  

Day 11

Sitting for long periods in a chair is hard on the body. A better option is to hit the floor and find a stretch that is comfortable. Here I’ve tucked one foot close to the hip and the other at 90 degrees touching the knee. It’s a great hip flexor stretch. Make sure both hips and knees are on the floor. Any pain in the knee and it’s not one you want to hang out in. Swap sides, maybe spending longer on the side that is tighter.  

Day 12

And who would’ve thought I would include the deep squat in any of my posts. Seriously this was an impossible feat until very recently. Although here I’m using the sand to raise the heels slightly. Hey whatever it takes! Usually I’ve been backed up against the wall to stop me toppling over. Another reasonable modification actually. Alternatively hold something that isn’t going to move on you. All options help. Same story as with other stretches here. If it’s hurting in the knees swap to another position that doesn’t! Anyway this is a stretch to do whenever you can – to whatever level you can. It works at opening the hips as well as the lower back. No yoga gear required.  

Day 13

Seated forward fold. Today’s stretch is one for the lower back. Take the legs out of the equation by bending them and then hug the chest to thigh by wrapping arms around legs. This helps no end in targeting the stretch correctly! My upper back still rounds but hey that’s life. A work in progress. Close the eyes and hang out here for 5 mins. Feel the stretch deepen as you relax into the pose. It’s a goodie, well worth trying.

Day 14

Haha it’s called the “head beyond knee” pose. That’s not happening but it does give an indication of where to aim for. This is another great stretch for the lower back. And probably the one that’s helped me the most in the last few months. Start seated with legs out in front. Bend the left leg and bring foot to right inner thigh. Lift the arms overhead and rotate the body to the right. Then reach out to the foot (or beyond). Think again about chest to thigh, so bend the knee slightly if necessary. The stretch will be in the left lower back. Breathe for 5 have a wriggle and then go a back for another round. Swap sides. Being really careful of the knee as you straighten it. Yes I have a thing about knees????  

Day 15

 Rock the baby stretch. Start sitting tall with legs straight. Bend the left leg and bring foot to right inside elbow. Wrap the left arm around the left knee. Interlace the fingers. Keep the spine upright and shoulders back away from the ears. Rock the leg only, very gently to release into the top of the leg, inner thigh and hip. Swap after a minute or so. If the hips are too tight to bring foot to inner elbow wrap the arms around the lower leg to start with.  

Day 16

Think not so much a backbend as a lovely stretch for the front of the body! Create a really stable base by engaging legs and core. Place hands on lower back and lift up from the waist. Drop the shoulders back from the ears and pull shoulder blades together. Look back only if that feels comfortable for the neck. This works just as well standing up. Especially after you’ve been sitting or working at the computer. Or on the windtrainer too. Teaching the body to lift out of the hips like this is perfect for when fatigue kicks in late in the day and you feel like you’re running whilst sitting in a bucket.  

Day 17

Time for a good side stretch. This is another one of those things I add into most classes. Usually at the beginning as part of the warmup. To make it really effective engage the core for stability and then as you drop the arms to one side push the hip out so the stretch goes from ankle to wrist. Use the core to lift you back to centre. Either hold and breathe on the same side or make it dynamic with one breath to each side for 3 to 5.    

Day 18

Finally I think we might have stretched out everything from the waist down. So fitting that we would use this pose to transition to the upper body. In no way did I cover every stretch but hopefully one way or another we got to the majority of the areas that routinely get tight. Either from training or just life in general. Half lord of the fishes pose is a deep twist that will stretch the side muscles of the body. Sit tall and place the right leg over the left, foot flat to floor. Engage the core and lift the upper body as you twist to the right. Use the left arm against leg to deepen the twist and look over the right shoulder. Be careful of the neck (but like knees we don’t want to do any damage here). Hold for a few breaths. Using the inhale to lift you taller and the exhale to deepen the twist. Swap and do the other side.
I’m not promising it will make you taller but you should definitely feel some more freedom of movement in the body.  

Day 19

Here’s a shoulder stretch I’ve been doing each morning this month! Start standing with your left foot and hip against a wall. Raise the left arm and place the palm flat on the wall. Take a few breaths and then move the arm back a bit. Breath again, and move the arm again. Keep everything touching the wall. Swap to the other side. You’ll soon know which parts of the shoulder and arm need further work????  

Day 20

This shoulder stretch is “thread the needle” and can be a dynamic breath based move or a long hold. Either way it’s going to work at the upper back and shoulders. Make sure the hips stay in line and the twist is in the upper body only. Only look up if the neck is ok! PS: do a warmup for the shoulders before doing this stretch. Then enjoy the lovely release of tension.  

Day 21

This stretch can be deceptively difficult! Or so easy you wonder what the fuss is about!! Sometimes it really does just come down to the underlying structure of your body – and that’s neither good nor bad – just what is. Sit with legs out straight and feet flexed. Place hands (palms down) on the floor right beside the hips and straighten through the spine. See above, if it works for you then the stretch can be in the shoulders, neck or arms. It’s great to reset the alignment after sitting (hunching) too long during the day. For me it really highlights tightness in the forearms. But everyone will be different????  

Day 22 

And at some point everything becomes a yoga prop???? This is the other half of my daily shoulder stretch this month. A window sill (or something that isn’t going to move) that’s just about waist height is ideal. Bring the hands shoulder width apart and walk the feet in a little. Pull the belly in to protect the back and then sink into the stretch for the shoulders and chest. Hold for 5 breaths to start with and work up to about 10. Relax the neck muscles – no need to hold tension there. If you want to multitask lift the toes as well for a foot stretch too????  

Day 23

Another stretch for the shoulders. This stretch targets the front and top of the shoulder. Start sitting and bring the left hand up the back (Palm facing out), keep the elbow close to the side body and lie back onto the arm. Ease the arm down if it’s too intense. Stay for 5 to 10 breaths and then swap to the other side. Rather than lying around on the floor it’s a stretch that can be done in bed instead ????    

Day 24

One more shoulder stretch whilst we’re rolling around on the floor. Yes, like my hips, these shoulders are locked solid from years of tension. This stretch targets the front of the chest and shoulders. Lie facedown and place the left arm directly out from the shoulder (Palm down), bend the elbow to 90 degrees. Place the right fingertips by the chest and slightly lift the right leg. Gently roll over onto the left arm and feel the stretch in the front of the chest. Hold for 3-5 breaths and swap to the other side. Head can be either on or off the floor. Whichever is easier on the neck.  

Day 25

Here’s a passive stretch for the back of the neck. I never cease to be amazed at how much tension we hold onto in the neck. And that’s especially true whenever we actually should be engaging our core muscles. So a release of the neck muscles is such a good idea. Lie on the belly with the elbows directly under the shoulders. Keep the shoulders engaged and then let the head hang. The weight of it will provide the stretch – no need to make it happen. Start with a minute and work up to 3-5 over a few days. Try to breath through the nose only while in this pose. This is really good for reducing headaches too.  

Day 26

Whoop whoop almost there. A quick visit down to the arms. Perfect to add into a yoga flow when you need a break????
  This is a series of stretches for the wrist and forearm. Take it really easy as the muscles and ligaments are very delicate. Maybe just do one side at a time so there’s not too much pressure exerted! Start kneeling (lean back a little to take some of the weight off the hands) with hands under shoulders, fingers forward. Gently work a quarter turn to the left and then back to the right. Finish with a half turn if that feels possible. Only hold for a few seconds initially. Once you’ve done it with palms down repeat with palms up. This feels amazing (afterwards) if you’ve been doing a lot of computer work!!  

Day 27

Back to the neck for a stretch with the added bonus of stretching out the arm too. Sit comfortably with legs crossed (maybe on a cushion if the hips are tight). Place the hands on the knees. Then breathe out and drop the right ear to the right shoulder (without moving the shoulder), stretch out the left arm fingertips to floor parallel to the hips. Relax and breathe for 3-5. Come back to centre for a breath before swapping to the other side. This is another one of those stress relieving headache busting stretches that can be done anywhere anytime ????    

Day 28 

Lion pose. A stretch for the throat and face muscles. And a guaranteed laugh inducing finish to the class. Why, because it dispels negative energy big time. Kneel with the ankles crossed. Sit back if that is comfortable and bring hands to knees. Puff the chest out like a lion, roll the eyes back to look up, stick the tongue out as you exhale forcefully. And do your best roar.  Swap the ankles and give it another go.    

Day 29

Once, at the end of a class a lady said “you’ve worked every muscle except my eyeballs”, so we fixed that! Sit comfortably, and without moving do the following. Look up, down, right, left, upper right, lower left, lower right and upper left. Be sure to blink plenty of times as you do this. Take your time and do it 2-3 times a day. That’s going to be part of my July challenge as I am tired of tired eyes. This stretch will reduce tension and help the eyes feel revitalised.  

Day 30

A nice lie on the floor.  Be sure to always take a few moments to allow the body to recover from the stretch.        

Suz Stokes

Suz Stokes

Founder of the 35 Day Detox.

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