About two weeks ago, I finished my first half marathon. I’ve never been much of a runner and the longest run I had done prior was about ten miles, so the day after I was really feeling sore. Like, so sore I could barely walk down the hall, but I forced myself to my mat and spent a good hour or so working through some very easy, restorative poses. Afterwards, I felt much better, and the next day, I hardly felt any soreness at all.
Supplementing your running habit with yoga has many benefits. Stretching and lengthening your muscles post-run can be a great way to prevent injury. It can help you recovery from vigorous workouts. Using yoga as your activity on your active rest day is a great way to stay in peak shape.
I wonder if sometimes runners have a tendency to “tune out” to their body. Often, they are adept at mustering the willpower to push through and persist beyond discomfort and sometimes pain. It really is amazing what your body can do if you are capable of shutting off that voice in your head telling you NO. However, yoga is a great way to get back in touch, reconnect with your body, and tune back in. Take a few moments to listen to and really appreciate the beauty and strength of your body.
The poses I've shared below are some that I've found feel best after my runs. Since running is such a lower body exercise, they tend to focus on the major muscles groups of your lower body: your quads, hamstrings and calves. Hold each pose for as long as feels good. Ease into and out of each. Your level of depth and intensity will depend on your level of flexibility, so honor your body and work with it.
This pose is an excellent way to gently stretch many of the major muscles in the backside of your body, from your shoulders to your hamstrings. Many runners experience lower back pain caused by tight psoas muscles, impact, or their posture. Keeping a deep knee-bend in this posture can help relieve pressure in the lower back which many runners find soothing.
Start by standing with your feet at hip-width distance and reach up tall with your hands. Dive forward and down with a flat back, with a big bend to your knees, until your arms reach the ground. Relax your neck and allow your head to dangle down. Shift your weight slightly into your toes. Work your knees toward straight and engage your quads to take the stretch into your hamstrings and backs of your legs. Grasp opposite elbows in your hands to come to a “rag doll” variation to find a little more traction in your spine.
The benefits of Downward Dog are many, but runners may appreciate the deep stretch to the calves most. This pose is also great for preventing Achilles tendon pain that can develop when runners amp up or change their mileage. This pose also requires the muscles on the front of the shin to flex, and which can help prevent shin splints.
Starting from a forward bend, plant your hands and step both feet back three to four feet or so. Lift your hips up toward the ceiling and press your heels down toward the ground. Its OK if your heels don’t make it yet, just keep pressing them down. Press your hands down and away, imagining pressing the floor away from your body. Tilt your hip bones up slightly towards the sky. Engage your legs, really pressing them straight. Lengthen through your spine.
Runners often have tight hips due to the repetitive motion involved. You can prevent problems associated with tight hips, such as diminished range of motion, sciatic pain, or lower back pain by stretching the hips and thighs. You can easily modify this lunge by widening or shortening the distance between your knees. If this bothers your back knee, roll the mat under a couple of times to give it a cushion to rest on.
Starting from standing, take a big step back with your left foot. Drop your left knee, lunging over your right. Press your hips forward and down. Your hands can be on the ground on either side of your front foot, on your knee, or up in the air. Scoot your back foot forward or backward to increase or decrease the stretch in your left hip and thigh. Repeat on the other side.
Kneeling Quad Stretch
This pose targets those huge muscles on the front of your thigh: the quadriceps. It can also help stretch and lengthen the tendons on the top of your knee and around your kneecap and may help prevent “runners knee” or tendonitis. Place a towel or roll your mat under a couple times to add a cushion for your back knee.
Starting in a lunge, back out slightly, bringing your hips up and back. Bend your back leg up and grab your foot with your hand. If you can't grab your foot with your hand, loop a strap or belt around your foot to extend your reach, pulling it in towards your body. To increase the stretch, shift your weight forward and hug your foot in closer to your body. Repeat on the other side.
Hamstring injuries can easily sideline any athlete or yogi. Tight hamstrings are a common occurrence in runners and can be one of the reasons runners experience lower back pain. Pyramid Pose is excellent for lengthening and strengthening the backs of your legs.
Start standing. Take a large step to the back with your left foot. Kick your back heel out slightly so you can stand comfortably with your hips facing forward over your front leg. Extend forward with a flat back. Walk your hands down your front leg until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. You might stop at your thigh, your shin, your ankle or the floor. Keep both feet pressing down into the floor. Keep extending forward with a flat back. Repeat on the other side.
Modified Thunderbolt Pose
This pose intensely stretches the connective tissue on the underside of your feet, or plantar fascia. Many runners experience a condition called plantar fasciitis, which is the inflammation of this connective tissue, and can commonly cause pain in your heel or the arch of your foot. Keeping the fascia on the underside of your foot in good shape is great for preventing plantar fasciitis. It can also help improve your balance in standing or balance postures.
Start kneeling. Reach back and tuck the toes of each foot under. Place your hands on the ground in front of you and slowly press your body upright. This can be a fairly intense stretch, so stop at any point if you feet any acute pain.
Is there any post-run stretches that you do that you find helpful?