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Pilates Ladder Barrel Exercise: Runner’s Stretch To Improve Flexibility for Tight Hip Flexors & Hamstrings

Posted Apr 04 2011 9:20pm

Today I want to share with you a  Pilates Ladder Barrel exercise that is excellent to help release tight hip flexors and stretch the hamstrings.  Both of these muscle groups tend to be tight and in need of improved flexibility.  Increasing joint range of motion at the hip will help you walk & run more efficiently with a longer stride, stand up taller with better posture, and avoid back pain, hip pain, and risk of injury.

This “Runner’s Lunge” stretch on the Ladder Barrel is a great addition to your Pilates workout program and it can also be done at home on your stairs, or even with a chair.  It’s a good exercise to do anytime, but is especially important after a long walk, run, or bike ride, or if you’ve been sitting for awhile – working on your computer, or driving in the car.

I’m going to demonstrate the exercise with the Pilates Ladder Barrel so you get a good visual of body alignment.  Then we’ll talk about how to adapt this to a home exercise program using your stairs or with a chair.

Pilates Ladder Barrel Exercise:  Standing Runner’s Stretch

Click here to view the embedded video.

A Few Tips for Exercise Technique on the Hip Flexor Stretch

  1. Stand facing the Ladder, and hold onto the top rung for balance.
  2. Place the ball of the right foot on the highest rung you are comfortable with. (If your hips or hamstrings are tight – start on a lower rung and as your flexibility increases you can progressively put your foot higher on the Ladder.
  3. Bend the front knee to lunge forward bringing the hips towards the Ladder, until you feel a stretch along the front of the hip and top of the thigh.
  4. Hold the stretch and take 3-5 deep, long breaths.

*To tweak your technique and improve your stretch, paying attention to your body alignment is very important.

  • Be sure the foot on the floor is parallel – with the toes & heel facing straight ahead.
  • Keep the heel reaching down to anchor the standing leg and stretch the calf.
  • The standing leg should stay straight with an unlocked knee.
  • Be sure both knees are facing straight ahead, same direction as the toes.
  • Your tailbone should lengthen down and out towards the back heel just a little to lengthen the lower back, while the lower abdominals pull up and in for support. This may place the pelvis in a slight tuck or scooped position.
  • If you had headlights on your hip bones, both lights should be shining straight ahead.  Be sure to keep the top crest of the back hip (ASIS) reaching forward to the Ladder.
  • Press forward with your standing leg from the back of the thigh where the leg meets the pelvis to help open the front of the hip for the best stretch.
  • The farther forward your pelvis moves towards the Ladder, the more you should strive to lift your torso up, while you keep pressing the back heel down.
  • Strive to find a long diagonal line with your body from your head to the heel.  Hips and shoulders stay square and even to the front.  Body lifts up, shoulders relax down.

A Few Tips for Exercise Technique on the Hamstring Stretch

  1. After your 3-5 breaths for a hip opening stretch in the forward lunge, slowly straighten the front leg until you’re standing with two straight legs for a hamstring stretch.
  2. If you started a good distance from the Ladder, when you straighten the top leg, your standing leg should be perpendicular/vertical to the floor.
  3. Keep your hips square to the Ladder
  4. Lengthen from the tailbone through the entire spine and out the top of the head, to bend forward over the top leg reaching your head to your knee (or ankle!)
  • Ideally the pelvis will be hinging forward to give you a great stretch high in the back of the hamstring where the leg meets the butt.
  • Hold this Hamstring stretch for 3-5 breaths.  On every exhale – if your leg and back relax strive to deepen the stretch and bend farther forward.
  • BONUS STRETCH: You can also – flex the ankle and reach the heel for the next rung down for a deeper stretch down the back of the leg from the heel to the hip.

After 3-5 breaths here, shift your weight back to the upright diagonal and repeat the hip flexor stretch for another 3-5 breaths.  Then straighten the front leg out and repeat the Hamstring stretch.

Do this Alternating Runner’s to Hamstring Stretch  3-5 times on one side, then repeat the entire exercise with the other leg.

How To Do This Stretch Without A Pilates Ladder Barrel

If you’re at home, or out at the park and don’t have a Pilates Ladder Barrel handy, but your front foot up on a stair, park bench, back of your car bumper…  anything that’s an appropriate height to get a good stretch.  This exercise isn’t about balance – so be sure you’ve got something to hold onto, otherwise your legs will stay tense and restrict your ability to get a good stretch.

Remember, the better your body alignment, the better your stretch!  Continue to scan your body and tweak your technique for the best stretch possible in both positions during your Standing Pilates Ladder Barrel Runners Stretch.  The goal is to really open and stretch at the front of the hip – to release tight hip flexors at the top of the thigh, and lengthen and release tight hamstrings down the back of the thigh.  This combination will help you enjoy a freer swinging motion of the leg from the hip joint, and help keep your hips, legs and back healthy & injury-free.

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