While you see many runners stretch before they start running, it actually makes more sense to stretch after your run, walk, or jog. The calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, IT bands, and quads tend to be tight after running. A good stretch can help loosen these muscles and aid in recovery.
Stretching after you run will help with flexibility and improve your range of motion. Warm muscles are more pliable, and you’ll find that you can reach further. It also gives you a sense of relief to stretch those tight muscles. Here are three simple yoga stretches for a post-walk flex.
1. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Begin on your hands and knees. Align your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. The fold of your wrists should be parallel with the top edge of your mat. Point your middle fingers directly to the top edge of your mat.
Stretch your elbows and relax your upper back. Spread your fingers wide and press firmly through your palms and knuckles. Distribute your weight evenly across your hands.
Exhale as you tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor. Reach your pelvis up toward the ceiling, then draw your sit bones toward the wall behind you. Gently begin to straighten your legs, but do not lock your knees.
Bring your body into the shape of an “A.” Imagine your hips and thighs being pulled backwards from the top of your thighs. Do not walk your feet closer to your hands — keep the extension of your whole body.
Press the floor away from you as you lift through your pelvis. As you lengthen your spine, lift your sit bones up toward the ceiling. Now press down equally through your heels and the palms of your hands.
Firm the outer muscles of your arms and press your index fingers into the floor. Lift from the inner muscles of your arms to the top of both shoulders. Draw your shoulder blades into your upper back ribs and toward your tailbone. Broaden across your collarbones.
Rotate your arms externally so your elbow creases face your thumbs. Draw your chest toward your thighs as you continue to press the mat away from you, lengthening and decompressing your spine.
Engage your quadriceps. Rotate your thighs inward as you continue to lift your sit bones high. Sink your heels toward the floor. Align your ears with your upper arms. Relax your head, but do not let it dangle. Gaze between your legs or toward your navel.
Hold for five to 10 breaths. To release, exhale as you gently bend your knees and come back to your hands and knees.
2. Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Begin in Downward-Facing Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana. On an exhale, step your right foot forward between your hands. Lower down onto your left knee and release the top of the left foot on the ground.
Ensure that the right knee is stacked directly over the right ankle, and isn’t moving forward toward the toes or outward to the left or right (this protects the knee from injury).
Keep the knee directly over the ankle if it feels like enough for your body—you should feel a comfortable stretch along the left front thigh and groin.
For a deeper sensation, you can inch the right foot forward on the mat until you find an edge that feels appropriate for your body.
Take your fingertips to the ground on either side of your hips and relax your shoulders away from your ears. As you continue to breathe deeply, soften the weight of your body down into your hips, and draw your tailbone down toward the ground.
Feel free to remain here, with your hands on your knee or your fingertips beside you for support, or experiment with extending one or both arms up alongside your ears and moving into a backbend (as shown above). Take five to 10 breaths in your expression of Low Lunge, whatever that might look like.
To come out of the pose, tuck your back toes under, plant your palms down on the mat, and make your way back into Downward-Facing Dog. Take several breaths in Down Dog, bending the knees, then repeat on the other side.
3. Eye Of The Needle Pose (Sucirandhrasana)
Begin lying comfortably on the back. Bend your knees and place the soles of your feet flat down on the mat, about hip-distance apart. Walk your heels in toward your body until you can just graze the heels with the fingertips.
Cross your right ankle on the left thigh, just below your bent knee, keeping the right foot flexed and active so that the toes of the right foot are pointing back toward the right knee. Ensure that you keep your right foot flexed throughout the duration of the pose in order to protect the knee joint from injury.
Lengthen your tailbone down toward the ground to maintain the natural curve of the low back, and find the action of pressing your right knee away from your body.
Thread your right arm through the space created between the legs, and interlace your fingers around the front of the left shin, or the back of the left thigh. Use the strength of your arms to gently pull your left leg closer to your chest while keeping your hips square.
Keep the back of the head down and the backs of the shoulders relaxed down on the mat. Release any tension you may be holding in the neck.
Remain in the pose anywhere from five-25 breaths. To come out of the pose, exhale to release the left leg and slowly lower the soles of both feet down onto the mat. You can gently rock the knees from side to side to release any tension, then come back to center and repeat on the other side.