Running is such a versatile workout that anyone can do anytime, anywhere. It’s a great way to get some fresh air, explore a new city, catch up with friends, or even just get that much-needed solo-time in during the week. It’s beneficial for the heart, mind, and muscles. It’s also one of the most efficient exercises to burn calories, helping with weight management, as a full body workout. Running can strengthen the quads, calves, core, and back muscles.
But it can take its toll on the muscles that support all of the above! Specifically, the hamstrings and hips are often shortened and very tight. To balance out your efforts and keep complementary muscle groups happy for more miles, incorporate these five yoga stretches a few times per week:
Downward Facing Dog
This simple, basic yoga pose is often a way to cleanse and refresh between sequences, but it is also often found at the beginning of a class to begin waking up the “back-body.” Putting a slight bend in the knees, while lifting the hips, will stretch the back and hamstrings. Pushing into the floor with the fingertips and knuckles while lifting the hips back, and pulling shoulders away from the ears, will help keep the integrity of the pose. Your heels may not touch the ground—that’s OK (mine don’t either!)—but try to get them close, and you’ll feel a nice calf stretch, too!
Low Crescent Lunge
From downward facing dog, pull one leg forward, placing the foot between your hands, and placing the back knee down on the ground. As the arms raise overhead, lean slightly forward with the front knee for a deep hip-flexor stretch! (Try to keep the hips level by slightly pulling the front-leg hip back and pushing the back-leg hip forward.) Then switch to the other side!
Bonus stretch: pull the hips back over the opposite knee and straighten the front leg, flexing that foot. This is called “half-splits” and will certainly wake up the hamstrings!
This may be one of the hardest poses to get into for a runner, or anyone with tight hips, but for that reason it may be a necessary “evil”! I have a pretty tough time keeping my brain calm in this pose, and often cringe as I sense it coming in class, but I know my hips appreciate the effort. It’s simple: stand with the feet hips-width distance apart, toes slightly pointed out, and squat down keeping your heels grounded. You may not make it down very far (as you can see, I don’t!), but it opens the hamstrings a little bit while you feel the burn in the hip flexors and IT band.
A common counter-pose to most yoga sequences, half-pigeon can be relaxing for some. But, again, if your hips are tight, you’ll feel a little uncomfortable here! Ease into this one. From downward-facing dog or plank, place the right foot next to the left hand, rolling onto the outer edge of the foot and laying the shin parallel to the front of your mat (it may come in at a slight angle, especially with tight hips). Relax onto the back (left) leg, keeping it straight out, top of the foot on the mat and toes pointing back (ball of the foot facing up). The left hip should be grounded, but the right may be slightly lifted. You can use a blanket or block to sit on if that’s more comfortable. Either way, come down onto the elbows, or forearms, and rest here for a few breaths. Deep breaths! Then switch and give some love to the other side.
Reverse Child’s Pose
Ah, finally, a slightly more relaxed pose. In any yoga class Child’s Pose is often available as a go-to if you’re feeling tired, tight, or just need to reset for a second. This isn’t the exact opposite of that, but just modifies the pose to stretch the quads and hip flexors. Come to a kneeling position and sit back onto the feet/heels—knees close but not touching. Slowly lean back and rest on your hands, elbows, or all the way on your back (depending on quad and hip flexibility!). The modified version is shown here.
Start with these five basic poses that stretch the big muscle groups that need it most after all of those miles. And feel free to round out your stretching efforts with “Corpse Pose” relaxation anytime you want!