7 Essential Stretches for Runners
Its winter, the days are getting shorter and people are covering up with hoodies and boots. This only means one thing: Its running season! As you prepare for your super long runs, I’m betting you face the tightness, soreness, and heaviness in your legs and hips that accompanies these mighty endeavors.
Most runners know the value of a solid warm up and cool down sequence. Out of the two, the cooldown (or stretch sequence) is primarily in charge of totally elevating your recovery and getting you back to 100% so you’re ready for your next run. Those essential 10 post run minutes can make or break your performance, your time and your pace.
You know what’s all about alleviating unnecessary suffering? Yoga!!!And yoga is all about alleviating pain so you’re never taking more than you need to. I’m talking about pain. Have no idea what your cooldown is supposed to look like? I got you covered, Bff!
1. IT Band Stretch
Stretch out your precious IT band (that’s the iliotibial band for all you science nerds, I see you). Stand straight up with your feet hip-width apart, facing a wall, 3 feet away. Cross your right foot over your left foot so you’re standing on both feet with your legs crossed (as shown) got it? Now bend forward, reaching towards the wall. If you’ve got more bend towards your toes while keeping both knees as straight as possible. Enjoy the stretch for a slow count of 8 and repeat on the other side.
2. Cat-Cow Stretch
Let’s get on the ground. Place your wrists under your shoulders and knees under hips. Straighten your back out so you feel like a Stable Table. From here as you inhale, lift the head and hips, to create an arch in the back. As you exhale, round the back, separating the shoulder blades and pulling the navel in and up to the ceiling. Or sky, if you’re outside, you lucky thing you!! Go from Cat to Cow 5 times, coordinating the breath with the movement to ensure full engagement of your core and back muscles. This will open up and release any tension in the back and shoulders. And feel so yummy!
3. Hip Opening Stretch
Moving forward, let’s bring that right leg forward, between the hands. Take your time and get there at your own pace. Once you reach the position, bend your knee so it’s right on top of the ankle (making a lovely 90-degree angle with the floor). Allow the back knee to stay where it is and start pressing those gorgeous hips forward towards your right ankle. Yeah, that’s where the stretch lives, so don’t shy away. You’re safe, feel the stretch through the front of the left thigh. Hold for a slow count of 8. If you’re not feeling the stretch, slide the foot forward and press the hip even more forward. Look at you, getting all flexible *heart eyes* Now open up with the left foot in front and balance the two sides out.
4. Hamstring Stretch
Everybody’s favorite move. If your hips and the backs of your thighs have been feeling heavy and restricting your range of motion, you’re probably in dire need of this one. From the Hip opening stretch, straighten the front knee (the right one, let’s assume). Bring your hips straight over the left knee and walk your hands on the floor, either side of the right leg. All you overachievers and super flexible-people can start lowering the chest to thigh and forehead to the knee. Most of us will feel the warm stretch just by touching the floor so listen to your body and go as far as feels good. Any sharp pains are your body’s way of saying, “Too much love! Back off” so listen closely.
5. Pigeon Pose
Stay right where you are! From the hamstring stretch bring your right foot over to your left hand and place the shin parallel to the front edge of the mat (the mat may be real or imaginary). With the back leg extended away from the body and the front making a right angle at the knee, as much as possible, lift the chest up and try to keep the back straight. In the second phase of the stretch, walk the hands forward and drop the chest towards the ground. If you notice you’re sitting on your right bum and the left knee is no longer pointing to the floor, put a cushion or a thick book (or a yoga block) under your hip and straighten them out!! No cheating. Hold here for a slow count of 8.
6. Down Dog
One of my personal favorites for super tight calves. Hopefully, your hamstrings are feeling more open by now otherwise you’re bound to feel them here in this stretch. Come back to the stable table from sat-cow and keeping the hands and feet where they are, push the hips up to the ceiling while straightening the knees so you arrive in this well-known triangular shape. Focus on slow and steady breaths here. Draw your navel into the spine (like the abs are hugging the spine) and press the palms into the floor to keep the shoulders wide. Either press one heel down at a time or gently push down both together until the back of your legs feel super straight.
7. Bonus Stretch
Who doesn’t love a good bonus? While your boss may still be holding out on you, I am giving you this bonus right here, right now. Here’s a version of a hamstring + calf stretch you can do right after your run or discreetly around the office/kitchen to ease any tightness in the legs, throughout the day. Standing upright, take a big step backward. Pressing both heels down to the ground, start to bend forward from the hip. If your hands can reach the floor while bending forward, yay for you. Otherwise, just allow the forward bend to open up the entire line of muscles from your hips to your heels. Hold for 8-10 counts or more if it feels comfortable.
Do you usually stretch after your runs? Have you noticed a large difference in your performance after you started incorporating stretches into your running routine? Share your experiences right here…