Running is something that has become many people’s favourite cardio over the past few months. When we don’t have the luxury of multiple gym cardio machines, running has stepped up and it’s popularity has increased. However, with a lot more runners out and about there are also going to be a lot more people with stiff post run bodies! You know the feeling, but did you know that stretching after your run can help improve your muscle recovery and reduce that post run soreness. Many of us know that stretching is a good idea, but we don’t really know where to start, so maybe we chuck in a quad stretch and then we’re done.
I have taught yoga to a lot of runners and athletes and always suggest to them a minimum of 10 minutes of cool down and stretches after their run, this gives you enough time to stretch multiple muscle groups.
As well as stretching, some foam rolling pre or post run and a good warm up can really help you with your running, and not just the recovery but also your performance. But for today let’s just focus on the stretching!
Perform these stretches below for 10-30 seconds and remember to breathe! When you breathe and stretch, the muscles will relax a little more and you will get a better stretch without adding stress to the muscle.
Hip Flexors and Quads - Adapted Lunge
Runners are known for having quite tight hip flexors; the muscles on the front of the hips that help you to lift you to propel your leg in front of you. Combine that with the fact we often sit most of the day and these muscles can get tight and if you are a keen runner they can even become inflamed, because of this we need to be careful with our lunge to make sure we don’t over do it. The quadriceps are the big meaty muscles on the front of the thigh, they help us to straighten our knee. These two groups of muscles are responsible for the front part of your stride.
By bending the back knee and lightly tucking the pelvis in our lunge we can find a stretch without loosing control of it. In this lunge variation we can better target the quad compared to a typical yoga lunge with a straight back leg which puts most of the stretch into the hip flexor. The bend of the back knee helps you to stretch your quad and the squeeze of the glute allows you to relieve the hip flexor without increasing inflammation.
TIPS. Keep the front knee directly over the ankle in all directions, this will look after you knee. Bend the back knee and squeeze the glute of the back leg to increase the stretch. If you want to add more to the stretch raise the hands. If it is too much with the back knee lifted then lower the knee to ground.
Hamstrings – Downward Facing Dog
Tight hamstrings are another classic in runners. The hamstrings are the muscles on the back of the thigh that are responsible for bending the knee and also partially responsible for moving the leg behind us, they share this task with their buddies the glutes. Releasing tight hamstrings is not going to happen overnight so remember to take the stretches slowly and not to overdo it. There are no PBs in yoga! Downward facing dog is a nice way to stretch out the hamstrings (and some of the calf muscles too) without having to do a traditional forward fold which can be quite tricky for many runners, but if you’re up to a challenge then forward folds are good too!
TIPS: Try to stay long through the spine and push the hips up and back. If your legs don’t go straight don’t worry, take a big bend in the knees but keep the spine long. You may find in time you can begin, little by little, to straighten the legs. Keep the feet hip width apart.
Glutes – Seated Sucirandhrasana
I mentioned that the hamstrings work with their besties the glutes. The main motion of the leg at hip in running is forwards and backwards. This backwards motion, also known as flexion, is where your glutes come in. Some of the glute muscles also help with stability, and that’s a big thing in running, so we need to show our glutes some love and stretch them out. This seated sucirandhrasana pose will help you stretch out your hardworking glutes.
TIPS: Make sure you stay upright with the chest and keep the foot resting on the thigh flexed and strong (this protects your knee, and we all know runners have enough knee worries in their life). If you want to make it deeper move the foot on the floor closer and if you want to make it less intense move that foot away.
Outer Hips, Thigh and Glutes – Uneven Uttanasana
The outer portion of our hips and thighs are often neglected in stretches, particularly in yoga classes so this might be a completely new feeling for you. This variation of a forward fold is one my students love to hate! We take a bend in one knee but keep the other straight and gently twist the torso so that we find a stretch somewhere in the outside of the straightened leg. The stretch for most people happens in and around the IT band a notoriously difficult place to stretch. The outer thigh is an area I find also responds really well to some foam rolling which will encourage that recovery even more.
TIPS: Keep the feet hip width apart and the legs stay inline with this, you may find as you bend the one knee that it falls in or out and the legs end up a bit wonky. Try to think about stacking the ankles, knees and hips. For maximum benefit squeeze the muscles between the shoulder blades to get a bonus chest stretch. And final tip, if you don’t have a yoga block grab a book, or anything similar, trust me this pose is easier with a block. It can be done without one if you have that flexibility but for most runners the is better with a block.
Inner Thighs, Hammies and Glutes – Ninja Pose
This is a bit of a multitasking pose; it stretches quite a few muscles. There are three options for this pose, our ninja pose. Firstly, if you have less mobility in the hips you can keep the hips about knee height and rest the hands to the mat. This variation will keep you supported and safe if you don’t have a lot of hip mobility but also still get you a good stretch. The second option is to lower the hips a lot more, so the hips come to one of your heels and the hands are still there for support. Obviously, there will be some stages between options 1 and 2 while you increase your hip flexibility and mobility. Option three, which will then help us to stretch and stay strong in this range of motion, is to lift the hands from the floor, tricky but not impossible, I promise!
TIPS: Only go as far as your hips will allow, there’s no need to force it. When you lower the hips in option 2 or 3 then turn the toes of the long leg to the sky to increase the hamstring stretch and your stability.
Enjoy these stretches, and don’t forget to breathe when you do them. Happy running!