Five Essential Injury-Beating Stretches

1. The bridge

Purpose: An essential exercse for runners, this prevents 'sitting' on the pelvis when running.

Starting position: Lie on your back with knees bent and arms resting on the mat, palms facing down.

Exercise: Slowly curl the spine up off the floor, starting at the tailbone, until the body forms a straight line from the shoulders to the knees. Hold for 5 seconds, building up to 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.

To progress: Perform the exercise as above, but once the pelvis is lifted, straighten each leg alternately, keeping the pelvis level.

2. The plank

Purpose: To strengthen the deep abdominal muscles - along with many other muscle groups. This classic core exercise is done by all the elite training squads.

Starting position: Lie face-down on the floor, propped up on your elbows, with knees and feet together.

Exercise: Engage the core and lift the hips and knees off the floor, taking the weight through your elbows and feet only, with the body in a straight line. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat five times.

To progress: Perform the exercise as above, then, from the extended position, lift one leg up, keeping the pelvis and back still and maintaining the straight line.

3. Backwards walking

What? Slowly walk backwards (ensuring you have a clear path). You can make this harder by taking the foot across the midline of your body as you are walking.

Why? This encourages the glutes to fire and is great to do before a speed session.

4. Hip flexors

Starting position: Lunge forward, placing your left foot on the floor in front and your right leg out behind, knee resting on the floor.

Exercise: Keeping the pelvis in a neutral position (it's easiest to do this by gently tightening the tummy muscles), slowly lean forwards. You should feel a stretch on the front of the hlp. Don't let the back arch - keep up tall. This is a basic hip flexor stretch - for a more advanced option, see the Thomas stretch.

5. Thomas stretch

This is a more advanced version of the hip flexor stretch, which also stretches the quadriceps and ITB. You'll need a surface about mid-thigh height. The kitchen table is normally a good bet!

Starting postion: Stand with your buttocks resting against a table or use the steeplechase pit at your local track.

Exercise: Pull one knee to your chest and slowly lie back onto the table, keeping the knee pulled into your chest. If you take a look at the stretching leg, it should be in line with or below the level of the table. If it is higher than that, this indicates tightness in your hip flexors. If, when you bend the leg, the thigh rises up, this indicates tightness in the quads, specifically the rectus fermoris.

Allow the stretching leg to hang off the table, gently pressing the knee downwards without letting the back arch. If possible, get someone to push down gently on the top of the knee.

If you have a helper, you can also try a PNF stretch technique called contract and relax, where you push your thigh up against their hand for five seconds and then relax, which should enable you to increase the stretch.

To stretch the quadriceps, the heel needs to go back towards the buttock. Get your helper to hold your knee in place and manually bring your heel backwards. Remember, this stretch should not cause pain - just tolerable discomfort.