Post-Run Yoga: 10 Smart Stretches to Help You Keep Going

We go running.

We finish running.

Then what do we do? 

Some of us hop off the treadmill. Others end at the trailhead or a parking lot. Many return to our own front door. 

Most often, we get in the vehicle and drive to the next thing in life or take a quick shower. 

  • What if we paused, allowing space for the in-between moments, honoring the transition zone, before moving on to the next thing? 

Enter yoga.

Common misconceptions about yoga:

“I’m not flexible enough for yoga.” 
  • You do not have to be flexible; in fact, hyperflexibility leads to instability which can lead to over-stretched, weak muscles and compromised joints.
“I thought yoga/stretching wasn’t good for runners.” 
  • True, over-stretching is not good for runners. Yoga involves both passive and active stretching, which is defined as contracting one set of muscles to open the opposing muscle group, without the use of a band, strap or even hands to pull you farther into the pose.
Furthermore, yoga is a dynamic, heat-building practice that encompasses:
  • Greater Range of Motion (ROM) of the joints 
  • Flexibility
  • Coordination
  • Strength
  • Focus
  • Balance
  • Control
  • And it’s all synchronized to the breath with an after-effect, in my opinion, unparalleled to any other physical endeavor. 
In other words, yoga is not simply sitting on your butt, passively stretching or pulling yourself into contorted, painful shapes.

5 runner-friendly facts about yoga

1. Yoga allows us to bring down the high vibration of running by utilizing deep BREATHING.

2. The BREATH allows us to bring the energy back into homeostasis, particularly after high intensity, hill repeat, speed-focused or interval runs.

3. When we BREATHE deeply, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the restorative center of our body, allowing for optimal post-run recovery.

4. When synching BREATH with movement while flowing through yoga postures, we train ourselves to sync BREATH with movement outside of yoga, i.e., daily life.

5. Yoga poses are the catalysts to prompt us to use our BREATH.

  • Do you see the common denominator in all of these statements? 

It’s the breath.

  • Right now, take a deep breath through your nose with your mouth closed if possible. 
  • Do it again. Keep breathing deeply in, filling up the belly, ribs, back and chest, as long as you can, and then breathe deeply out.
  • There, you are doing yoga. One might even say you are meditating.
So let’s get to it. Where were we? 

We just finished running. 

Let’s transition to the next thing in life slowly, with post-run yoga.

When I finish a run, my intention is to target all six planes of the body, as follows:

  • Forward bend to stretch the backside of the body
  • Backbend to stretch the front side of the body
  • Side bend right 
  • Side bend left
  • Twist right
  • Twist left

When doing the following poses, please keep in mind the following:

  • If something is particularly sticky or tight, hold it longer than the three to eight recommended breaths.
  • Ease slowly into the poses.
  • Find where you can be in the pose without constricting the breath or straining - if you can’t breathe where you are, back off.
  • If it hurts in a sharp, abrupt way, stop.
  • I prefer to remove my running shoes if weather permits and put on Luna Running Sandals for post-run yoga at the trailhead, but you can keep shoes on if you’d like or go barefoot.
Do not:
  • Bounce in the stretch
  • Push beyond pain or your own limitations to see how far you can go
  • Grab and strain for your toes, which causes tension in the neck and shoulders - relax the arms wherever they fall comfortably

10 Post-Run Yoga Stretches You Can Do at the Trailhead or Anywhere

The following series is what I do most frequently when I arrive off the trail and back to my vehicle, which I use as a prop, at the trailhead. 

If you are at a gym, track, park or at home, use a wall or steps as your prop.

1. Calf Stretch with Straight Back Leg

1. Calf Stretch with Straight Back Leg

  • Press hands against a solid surface like a wall, tree or vehicle
  • Step one leg back and keep it straight without hyperextending and step the other leg forward, knee bent
  • Look down toward the ground, chin tucked toward chest, to stretch the back of the neck
  • Contract the core muscles by drawing the navel toward the spine and flex the quadricep muscle of the straight back leg 
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
Benefits:
  • Turns the gaze down to begin to ground the energy after the run; feel free to close your eyes
  • Stretches the calf of the straight back leg, the back and the back of the neck
  • Improves ankle and neck mobility (range of motion around the joint)
2. Calf Stretch with Bent Back Knee

2. Calf Stretch with Bent Back Knee

  • Press hands against a solid surface like a wall, tree or vehicle
  • Step one leg back and bend the knee until you feel the stretch begin to change - you might feel it more in the upper calf or back of the ankle
  • Look down toward the ground, chin tucked toward chest, to stretch the back of the neck
  • Contract the core muscles by drawing the navel toward the spine and flex the quadricep muscle of the back leg 
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
Benefits:
  • Turns the gaze down to begin to ground the energy after the run; feel free to close your eyes
  • Stretches the calf/back of the lower leg, especially the soleus muscle, the back, back of the neck and tissue on the bottom of the foot 
  • Improves ankle and neck mobility
3. Hamstring Stretch

3. Hamstring Stretch

  • Prop leg on a bumper, rock or step at a height that is comfortable for you - knee to hip height works for most 
  • Engage the quadriceps muscles to protect the low back and back of the legs and in order to safely open the opposing muscles through active stretching
  • Contract the core muscles by drawing the navel toward the spine and flex the quadricep muscle of the back leg 
  • Keep torso upright/ do not fold forward if this is an intense stretch already
  • If folding forward, hinge from the hips, not the waist, until you feel a light stretch
  • You have the option to fold forward over the leg as long as you can maintain an engaged core and legs and it is not too intense on the back of the leg
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
Benefits: 

  • Stretches hamstring on back of propped leg and low back 
  • Improves hip and pelvis mobility
4. Twisted Hamstring Stretch

4. Twisted Hamstring Stretch

  • Prop leg on a bumper, rock or step at a height that is comfortable for you - knee to hip height works for most 
  • Engage the quadriceps muscles to protect the low back and back of the legs and in order to safely open the opposing muscles through active stretching
  • Twist toward the leg that is propped up; place hand on hip and press the hip down away from the armpit to feel the side of the body lengthen
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
Make it dynamic: 

  • The first way: Inhale and take the arm that’s holding the hip straight back, then up and exhale to bring it down and forward and back again, making a big arm circle. Repeat for eight to 25 reps, or as many as feels good for you on that particular day.
Benefits: 

  • Hamstring, outer leg (IT band area), outer hip/ glute area, ribs, side body, chest and low back 
  • Strengthens stabilizing leg
  • Improves hip, pelvis and shoulder mobility
5. Quad/ Hip Flexor Stretch

5. Quad/ Hip Flexor Stretch

  • Place one foot leg on a bumper, rock or step at a height that is comfortable for you
  • Bend into the propped leg
  • Keep a bend in the back knee
  • Support yourself with your hands if need be
  • Drop the tailbone straight toward the ground only if you tend to stick the booty out to feel a deeper stretch down the front of the stabilizing leg, keeping the core engaged the entire time
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
Make it dynamic: 

  • Inhale as you straighten the knee of the back stabilizing/grounded leg and exhale as you bend it to your own degree. Repeat for eight to 25 reps, or as many as feels good for you on that particular day.
Benefits: 

  • Stretches hamstring of propped leg and maybe calf
  • Stretches front of hip, low belly and quadriceps of the stabilizing leg and perhaps the calf/foot muscles
  • Improves hip, pelvis, ankle and knee mobility
6. Quad/ Hip Flexor Stretch with Side Bend

6. Quad/ Hip Flexor Stretch with Side Bend

  • Place one foot leg on a bumper, rock or step at a height that is comfortable for you
  • Bend into the propped leg
  • Support yourself with your hands if need be
  • Drop the tailbone straight toward the ground if you tend to stick the booty out to feel a deeper stretch down the front of the stabilizing leg
  • Lift the arm on the same side as the stabilizing leg and lean toward the propped leg without collapsing the chest forward
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
Make it dynamic: 

  • Inhale lifted arm back to center and exhale as you side bend. Repeat for eight to 25 reps, or as many as feels good for you on that particular day.
Benefits: 

  • Stretches hamstring of propped leg and calf if it’s tight
  • Stretches the front and side of the hip, including the psoas, the low belly, plus side of the leg (IT band area) of the stabilizing leg and perhaps the calf/foot muscles if those are tight
  • Stretches the chest, side body, ribs, armpit area and shoulder on the stabilizing leg side
  • Improves hip, pelvis, ankle and knee mobility
7. Supported Awkward Chair Pose/ Outer Hip Stretch

7. Supported Awkward Chair Pose/ Outer Hip Stretch

  • Hold onto something for support with both hands
  • Bend one leg as you lift the other leg in order to place the ankle on top of the bent leg, above the kneecap (not on the knee joint)
  • Once the ankle is resting on top of the thigh, flex the toes of that foot back toward the knee to protect the knee
  • Draw the belly button toward the spine and slightly hollow out the belly to engage the core in order to protect the low back
  • Sit the butt back as if you were reaching for an invisible chair behind you
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
Make it dynamic: 

  • Inhale as you lift the hips, slightly straighten the grounded, stabilizing leg and exhale as you sit the hips down and back, as if you were coming up part way out of a chair and then sitting back down. Repeat for eight to 25 reps, or as many as feels good for you on that particular day. 
Benefits: 

  • Stretches outer hip, glutes, piriformis, inner thigh of the leg that’s propped on the standing leg and upper back if supporting yourself by holding and pulling back on something as pictured above
  • Strengthens stabilizing leg, hips and butt, especially if done dynamically 
  • Improves hip, pelvis and knee mobility
8. Heel-drop Calf Stretch

8. Heel-drop Calf Stretch

  • Find a step, bumper, side of a curb or something that you can step onto and drop one heel without it touching the ground
  • Slide the foot off of your bumper until you are on the base of your toes/ in front of the arch
  • Cross the opposite ankle behind the dropped-heel ankle 
  • Draw the belly button toward the spine and slightly hollow out the belly to engage the core in order to protect the low back and keep you balanced 
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
Make it dynamic: 

  • Inhale as you raise the heel while squeezing the calf muscle and exhale as you lower the heel back to the drop-heel position. Repeat for eight to 25 reps, or as many as feels good for you on that particular day.
Benefits

  • Stretches muscles on the bottom of the foot and back of the lower leg 
  • Improves ankle mobility 
9. Heel-drop Calf Stretch with Side Bend

9. Heel-drop Calf Stretch with Side Bend

  • Find a step, bumper, side of a curb or something that you can step onto and drop one heel without it touching the ground
  • Slide the foot off of your bumper until you are on the base of your toes/ in front of the arch
  • Cross the opposite ankle behind the dropped-heel ankle 
  • Draw the belly button toward the spine and slightly hollow out the belly to engage the core in order to protect the low back and keep you balanced 
  • Reach one arm up and bend to the opposite side. Hold onto something for support with the arm that’s not reaching up and over. Hold for three to eight breaths.
  • Keep the same heel dropped as you reach the other arm up and bend to the side. Hold onto something for support with the arm that’s not reaching up and over. Hold for three to eight breaths.
  • Switch which heel is dropped and repeat - side bending to one side, holding, then switch arms, and side bend to the other side for three to eight breaths
Make it dynamic: 

  • This is a one-breath per movement series. Inhale one arm up and exhale bend to the side, then inhale the other arm up and exhale bend to the other side. Hold onto something for something with the arm that’s not reaching up and over. Repeat for eight to 24 reps, or as many as feels good for you on that particular day.
Benefits: 

  • Stretches muscles on the bottom of the foot and back of the lower leg
  • Stretches the front and sides of the hips plus side of the legs (IT band area) as well as the entire side body, ribs, armpit area and shoulders
  • Improves hip and ankle mobility
10. Downward Facing Dog/ Adho Mukha Svanasana

10. Downward Facing Dog/ Adho Mukha Svanasana

  • Find a flat-ish surface to fold forward, bend your knees and walk your hands forward until you’re in an inverted “V” position known as Downward Facing Dog
  • Press the palms of the hands down
  • Lower the heels down toward the ground, but they do not have to touch
  • Engage the quadriceps muscles to protect the back of the legs and safely open the hamstrings 
  • If the backs of the legs are tight, slightly bend the knees
  • Draw the belly button toward the spine and slightly hollow out the belly to keep the core active in order to protect the low back
  • Drop the head by slightly tucking the chin toward the chest to ensure you are not creating wrinkles on the back of the neck or compressing there; nod the head up and down then side to side as if you were shaking your head no; then let it hang
  • Hold for five to 10 breaths
Make it dynamic:
  • Bend one knee as you straighten the other, pedaling out the feet, eight to 20 times per side
  • Shift the heels to the right then to the left eight to 20 times per side
Benefits: 

  • Stretches the entire backside of the body, from head to toe, including the neck, shoulders, back, glutes, hamstrings, lower legs and feet
  • Strengthens arms, shoulders back and core
  • Improves mobility of all major joints

Build your own post-run yoga practice

If ten poses seems like too many, start with one pose and hold it for three breaths per side. 

The next day, choose another pose. Play with the sequence. 

Are your calves pretty loose? Then skip some of the calf-focused poses. 

Keep adding poses and the number of breaths until you tailor your post-run yoga session to meet your wants and needs. Some days you’ll have time for more, some days less. 

The purpose is to decompress and settle into the breath in order to elevate your recovery experience, which is as equally important as your training session. 

Happy running and happy yoga!

 
Favorite Yoga app for daily morning practice: 
What Brynn’s wearing: 
Brynn Cunningham received her 230-hour yoga instructor certification from the Asheville Yoga Center (AYC) in North Carolina in 2015. Prior to formal training, she began teaching at community centers in 2011.

She took her first yoga class at age 18, in 2001, when someone suggested it would be good for her as a runner. Yoga became a daily practice for her in 2009.

Each morning, she wakes up and practices for 60 to 90 minutes to begin the day with the breath and movement.

Brynn founded Inhale Exhale Run first as a blog where she could write about yoga and running and then as a way to bring Yoga for Runners Workshops and yoga classes to groups and studios.

Past and present yoga clients and teaching locations include: 
  • Nemacolin Woodlands Holistic Healing Center & Spa 
  • Uniontown YMCA
  • Uniontown Area High School Cross Country and Track & Field Teams
  • Laurel Highlands High School Girls Soccer Team
  • Penn State University Eberly Campus Cross Country Team
  • Morgantown Running Store - special events 
  • Waterkeeper Alliance Annual Conference
  • Private Sessions by request
Photography by Colleen O’Neil

Questions about poses? Please post in the comments.

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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, backcountry skier, yogi, mom and writer. www.inhaleexhalerun.com

Comments

Rob Myers My flexibility is terrible! Thanks for dropping the Yoga knowledge Brynn. Great Rundown!

Brynn Cunningham Thank you! Two more post-yoga for runners coming soon!

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