Running is hard on the body, but it doesn’t have to leave you feeling stiff. If you find yourself hobbling the day after hill repeats, if you work an office job that has you sitting when you’re not running or if you just want to feel taller and more balanced, consider adding a few minutes of yoga to your daily routine. Take a quick 5–7 minutes to do this routine and limber up first thing in the morning, or do a couple of these poses in the yard to cool down after a run.
It’s even better if you can add in a yoga class every so often. Kathryn Slater, a yoga instructor in Easthampton, Mass., suggests the following moves specifically for runners. If you do make it to a class, consider chatting with the teacher before class and alerting him or her that you’re a runner. That way the instructor can work with your limitations and help you in a way that will improve your running (versus improving your yoga abilities).
Start your home practice after your run today with these seven moves:
“When I get home from a run, I roll out the yoga mat and step into downward-facing dog,” says Slater.
Keep your knees bent a lot at first, and push the floor down and away with your hands. Spread your fingers as much as possible, and push down with all 10 fingers.
While your knees are bent, start slowly straightening them as you work your heels toward the floor — but don’t push too hard. Most runners won’t make it all the way to the floor with their heels. If you can’t get your heels down together, try them one at a time, bending the knee on the other leg so your heel can touch.
“This pose lengthens and opens the entire posterior chain of the body, including the ankles, calves, hamstrings, glutes, musculature of the back and arms and the muscles of the neck,” Slater says, “and it’s a great way to ‘relengthen’ your bod after a tough run.”
These might seem like Yoga 101 moves, but they’re classics for a reason. This lunge pose really works to soften the hip flexors, which can tighten up when you’re pounding the pavement.
Step one foot forward between the hands, and drop the back knee to the floor, coming into a low lunge. Keep the knee tracking toward the pinky toe side of the foot, externally rotating the femur. The back toes can be kept tucked under for extra support. Allow the front knee to move forward as the hips open up and the pelvis drops. Keep the low belly hugging back toward the spine slightly to protect the low back. Widen your collarbones, and keep your chest full and open.
This also helps you practice deep breathing with a nicely expanded chest. Use all that oxygen to aid your recovery.
Moving from the low lunge, push from the front foot so that the front thigh is parallel to the ground. The lunge is now much more boxy, and your hands come up to your hips.
Your belly should pull back toward the spine, and your tailbone reaches toward the front heel. If your right foot is forward, reach the left arm up, lengthening through the entire left side, and then reach the left arm up and over toward the right.
Repeat with the left foot forward for the low lunge and box lunge.
This stretch continues opening that hip flexor as well as the psoas — so key for runners. And it makes you feel tall, says Slater: “As the arm reaches up and over, and the knee gets heavy on the ground, you can feel the lengthening along the entire side chain, from the deep inner thigh up into the armpit.”
We love lunges: They’re strengthening, lengthening and hit some of major spots in which runners tend to be tight.
From the box lunge, place the hands back on the ground on either side of the front foot, and push through the ball of that foot as the leg straightens slightly or completely.
Straighten that leg to a comfortable position. As soon as you feel the hamstring on that side, stop there and breathe. You’ll be in a sort of triangle.
“This is a classic move for runners because it’s an excellent way to get into the hamstrings,” Slater says (and hamstrings are tight on nearly every runner). “To gain even more fluidity and movement through the hips, groin and legs, move back and forth from the runner’s lunge to the low lunge, seeking out tight spots and breathing there.”
Modified Supine Eagle Legs
You’re almost done! Lie on your back, and bend your knees up, then cross one knee over the other. Hug your knees in toward the chest, keeping your head and neck relaxed on the ground. Not feeling anything yet? If you need more, grab the bottoms of the feet, and hug them in toward the shoulders. Now you should be feeling something…
“This position moves into the deeper hip rotators, lengthening the musculature and also increasing circulation,” says Slater.
Stay on your back, uncross the legs and hug both knees to your chest. Then, open your arms wide in a T shape, and drop both knees to the left, turning your gaze to the right. Your shoulders should relax and drop back, while your hips relax and press down.
It’s a relaxing pose, so don’t strain your shoulders or hips searching for the ground. Just go as far as you can, feeling a stretch but no pain.
“This position creates some movement around the spine, helping to open up the muscles of the back and the neck,” Slater adds. “Simultaneously, the twisting motion that is created increases mobility of the belly organs, assisting with any gastrointestinal issues that may have popped up during the run. This position also opens the hips and low back.”
If you suffer from GI distress while running — and nearly all runners do at some point — this pose really works to calm your stomach down and get your system moving smoothly again.
Savasana (Final Resting Pose)
You survived! But don’t jump up right away. Take advantage of feeling stretched out and beat from your run by chilling in savasana, the pose that lets adults take naps in the name of yoga. If even for a few seconds, lie on your back with your arms and legs stretched out. Scan your body, attempting to relax deeply.
“This posture is incredibly important for restoring and rejuvenating the central nervous system,” she adds. “It sets the body up for deep relaxation by tapping into the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, which is the side responsible for healing and resting.”
Namaste, you badass runner.