Post-Run Yoga: 11 Seated Stretches to Speed Recovery Time

Running takes an undoubtable toll on your body. Yoga techniques for runners can help relieve a great deal of the stress that builds up during a run. Taking time to stretch, rest, and refuel after a run can make a huge difference in your recovery.

There are times when standing yoga stretches after a run are sufficient.

And there are times when using your vehicle or wall for post-run yoga is just the thing you need.

Then, there are times when we end a run, and we must sit now

Typically, for me, and lots of runners I know, that feeling happens on a few occasions: 

  • After a hard, fast effort, such as a Fastest Known Time or tough race 
  • After a long run (“long” is relative; for me, three or more hours of running, or at least 15 trail miles on technical, steep terrain, is long; what’s long for you may be different, and that’s OK)
  • After a medium run (two to three hours) completed in the dark, after a busy day of work/mom/life duties

This story covers the post-run seated and supine postures I do on these occasions. 

First, let's review a few things...

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.

Facts about yoga that can benefit runners

  • Yoga allows us to bring down the high vibration of running by utilizing deep breathing.
  • The breath allows us to bring the energy back into homeostasis, particularly after high intensity, hill repeat, speed-focused or interval runs.
  • When we breathe deeply, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the restorative center of our body, allowing for optimal post-run recovery.
  • 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.
  • 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. It’s nice to hold the seated poses a bit longer. 
  • 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 do the seated and supine poses without shoes; if that’s not possible, then I put on Luna Running Sandals when I’m at the trailhead. 

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 

11 Seated post-run yoga stretches you can do at the trailhead or anywhere

Let’s get off our feet and begin the recovery process ASAP. When it’s cold outside, I quickly change clothes and shut myself into my vehicle to perform this sequence. 

1. Seated Forward Fold/ Pascimotonasana Pose

1. Seated Forward Fold/ Pascimotonasana Pose

  • Sit with your legs straight out in front of you
  • Flex the toes back toward the knees
  • Engage the quadriceps muscles and lightly bend the knees
  • Sit up tall, reaching the top of the head toward the sky
  • Maintain an engaged core by drawing the navel to the spine
  • Stay sitting up tall if your back rounds here or you feel like you have to prop your hands behind you, or if the stretch is strong already
  • If sitting up tall is easy, and the spine remains neutral, walk the hands forward 
  • Close your eyes if you’d like
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
Seated Forward Fold: If you can fold forward over the legs without excessively rounding the back or straining, go ahead.
  • If you can fold forward over the legs without excessively rounding the back or straining, go ahead
  • Think about sandwiching the belly to the top of thighs - this will held keep engagement of the core 
  • Drape the fingers over the toes to release the soles of the feet

Benefits:

  • Stretches the hamstrings, backs of the legs, bottoms of the feet and back 
  • Decompresses the spine
  • Calms the nervous system because it is a forward fold
  • Shifts the energy from active to passive by turning the gaze down especially if eyes are closed 
2. Half Butterfly/ Janu Sirsasana Pose

2. Half Butterfly/ Janu Sirsasana Pose

  • With your legs straight out in front of you, bend one knee and place the sole of the foot toward the inner thigh of the opposite leg
  • Flex the toes back toward the knee
  • Engage the quadriceps muscles and lightly bend the knee of the straight leg, ensuring that it is not hyperextended
  • Sit up tall, reaching the top of the head toward the sky
  • Stay sitting up tall if the stretch is strong already, or walk the hands forward
  • Let the hands rest alongside the leg or, if you can reach, hold either side of the foot
  • Maintain an engaged core by drawing the navel to the spine
  • Close your eyes if you’d like
Half Butterfly: If you can fold forward over the leg without excessively rounding the back or straining, then proceed
  • If you can fold forward over the leg without excessively rounding the back or straining, then proceed
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side

Benefits:

  • Stretches the hamstring of the straight leg, inner thigh of the bent leg and low back and hip area on the side of the bent leg
  • Decompresses the spine
  • Calms the nervous system because it is a forward fold
  • Shifts the energy from active to passive by turning the gaze down especially if eyes are closed 
3. Seated Side Bend Pose

3. Seated Side Bend Pose, Four Arm Variations

  • With your legs straight out in front of you, bend one knee and place the sole of the foot toward the inner thigh of the opposite leg
  • The bent knee will open to the side more than in the previous pose
  • Flex the toes back toward the knee on the straight leg
  • Engage the quadriceps muscles and lightly bend the knee of the straight leg
  • Open the torso to the side
  • Maintain an engaged core by drawing the navel to the spine

Variation One (photo above):

  • Rest the arm on the straight leg without collapsing the torso toward the ground
  • Rest the other hand on the inner thigh of the bent leg
  • Lean sideways over the straight leg
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
3. Seated Side Bend Pose (Variation Two)

Variation Two

  • Rest the arm on the straight leg without collapsing the torso toward the ground
  • Reach the other arm over the side of the face
  • Lean sideways over the straight leg
  • Press the hip of the bent knee leg into the earth to stay rooted
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
3. Seated Side Bend Pose (Variation Three)

Variation Three

  • Walk the arm on the straight leg on the inside of the leg and hold the big-toe side of the foot
  • Reach the other arm over the side of the face to catch the pinkie toe side of the foot
  • Lean sideways over the straight leg, turning the chest up toward the sky
  • Press the hip of the bent knee leg into the earth to stay rooted
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
3. Seated Side Bend Pose (Variation Four)

Variation Four

  • Reach the bottom arm to the top of the bent-knee leg
  • Reach the other arm over the side of the face to catch the pinkie toe side of the foot
  • Lean sideways over the straight leg, turning the chest up toward the sky
  • Press the hip of the bent-knee leg into the earth to stay rooted
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side

Benefits: 

  • Stretches hamstrings, inner legs side body, rib-cage area, low back area, chest and hips
  • Improves hip, pelvis and shoulder mobility 
4. Toe Stretch Pose with Shoulder Stretch

4. Toe Stretch Pose with Three Shoulder Stretch Variations

  • Tuck your toes underneath of you and sit back on the heels
  • Make sure all ten toes are tucked
  • If it’s intense, lean forward to take some weight off he toes

Variation One (photo above)

  • Hold opposite forearms or elbows with opposite hands behind you
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
4. Toe Stretch Pose with Shoulder Stretch: Variation Two

Variation Two

  • Interlace the hands behind you
  • Draw the heels of the hands toward one another 
  • Put a slight bend in the elbows to prevent locking off the joints or hyperextending
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
4. Toe Stretch Pose with Shoulder Stretch: Variation Three

Variation Three

  • Press the palms together behind your back
  • Only do this if the palms can come completely together without forcing or straining 
  • If they cannot, please do variation one or two
  • Hold for three to eight breaths

Benefits: 

  • Stretches bottoms of the feet and chest
5. Low Lunge Pose

5. Low Lunge Pose, Two Variations

  • Step the right leg back
  • Lower the back, left knee down to the ground
  • Stack the front, right knee over the ankle, so that the shin is mostly vertical

Variation One (photo above)

  • Rest the right hand on the inside of the front foot and the left hand on top of the left thigh
  • Draw the navel toward the spine in order to maintain a strong core
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
5. Low Lunge Pose (Variation Two)

Variation Two

  • Rest both hands on top of the bent leg and upright the torso
  • Draw the navel toward the spine in order to maintain a strong core
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side

Benefits: 

  • Stretches the front of the hip and quadriceps of the back leg as well as the lower abdomen
  • Strengthens the front leg
6. Half Hero/ Ardha Virasana Pose
  • Sit with both legs straight out in front of you
  • Bend one knee back so that the top of the foot and shin lies on the ground, and the heel is near the hip, as pictured
  • Bend the other leg and plant the foot on the ground
  • If the above steps do not seem possible for your body, DO NOT DO THIS POSE
  • The knee should not be floating way up in the sky; if it is, DO NOT DO THIS POSE
  • If this pose presents any type of strain or is difficult to get into, DO NOT DO IT
  • Stick with the Low Lunge if this pose does not work for you

Variation One (photo above)

  • Rest your hands behind you
  • Draw the navel toward the spine in order to maintain a strong core
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
6. Half Hero/ Ardha Virasana Pose (Variation Two)

Variation Two

  • If variation one felt good, try variation two
  • Walk your hands back behind you until you’re resting on your forearms
  • Draw the navel toward the spine in order to maintain a strong core
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side

Benefits: 

  • Stretches the front of the hip, ankle foot and quadriceps , 
7. Camel/ Ustrasana Pose

7. Camel/ Ustrasana Pose, Two Variations

  • Kneel and lift the torso so you are standing on your knees
  • Without collapsing into the low back, lift the heart up toward the sky as the shoulder blades squeeze toward one another
  • Gently push the hips forward 
  • Keep the gazer forward, straight ahead or begin to turn the gaze upward (as pictured)

Variation One (photo above)

  • Place the hands on your butt behind you, as if you were sticking your hands into back pockets on your pants
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
7. Camel/ Ustrasana Pose (Variation Two)
  • If variation one felt good, try variation two
  • Lean the torso back in one plane to reach for the heels
  • If you have to twist the body to the right to gab one heel and then twist the body to the left for the other heel, SKIP THIS VARIATION
  • Arch in the upper back, not the low back
  • Gaze upward without letting the head drop way back
  • Breath space into the back of the neck 
  • Hold for three to eight breaths

Benefits: 

  • Stretches the front of the shoulders, hips, chest, abdomen and quadriceps 
  • Strengthens the back body
8. Seated Twist/ Ardha Matseyendrasna

8. Seated Twist/ Ardha Matseyendrasna, Three Variations

  • Sit with the legs straight out in front of you
  • Bend the right leg so it’s on the ground in front of you
  • Step the left foot over the right knee
  • Ground both butt bones evenly into the ground

Variation One (photo above)

  • Twist into the lifted left leg and hug the left knee with the right arm
  • Sit up tall and twist toward the left
  • Draw the belly button toward the spine
  • Root the left hip down using your left hand
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other si
8. Seated Twist/ Ardha Matseyendrasna (Variation Two)

Variation Two

  • Twist into the lifted left leg and take the right elbow outside of the left leg
  • Rest the left hand behind you and twist to the left, looking over the left shoulder
  • Sit up tall
  • Draw the belly button toward the spine
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
8. Seated Twist/ Ardha Matseyendrasna (Variation Three)

Variation Three (advanced)

  • Only do this if you have zero restrictions in the shoulders and the first two poses are easy for you
  • Twist into the lifted left leg and take the right elbow outside of the left leg
  • Tuck the right arm underneath of the left leg
  • Wrap the left arm behind the back and clasp the hands together
  • Sit up tall
  • Twist toward the left, looking over the left shoulder
  • Draw the belly button toward the spine
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side

Benefits: 

  • Stretches the sides of the hips and legs, back and shoulders 
9. Seated Twist with Leg Extended

9. Seated Twist with Leg Extended, Two Variations

  • Sit with the legs straight out in front of you
  • Bend one leg so that it tucks in beside you
  • Lift the other leg and hold the pinkie-toe side of the foot with the opposite hand 
  • If you can’t reach the foot without rounding the back, use a strap, long-sleeve shirt, belt or tie
  • Straighten the leg only as much as it’ll go while keeping a neutral, upright spine  
  • Twist toward the lifted, extended leg

Variation One (photo above)

  • Use the hand to press the hip of the lifted leg down into the ground so that both butt bones are rooted equally into the ground - you want to lengthen the space between the top of the hip and the armpit
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
9. Seated Twist with Leg Extended (Variation Two)

Variation Two

  • Let go of the hip with the hand while keeping the length down the side body
  • Reach the arm back behind you and twist to look toward the hand
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side

Benefits: 

  • Stretches the outer seam of the legs and chest
10. Reclining Pigeon Pose

10. Reclining Pigeon Pose, Three Variations

  • Lie on the back
  • Bend the knees into the chest
  • Place the left foot on the ground with the knee bent as pictured above
  • Place the right ankle above the left knee, as pictured
  • Flex the right toes toward the right knee
  • Make sure the ankle is not sickled by pressing the big toe forward as you draw the pinkie-toes side of the foot back in order to protect the knee; another way to see if it is sickled is to look at the inside of the ankle - if there are wrinkles, lengthen the inner foot by pressing the big toe forward as if you were rooting into the earth until the wrinkles disappear 

Variation One (photo above)

  • Place the right hand on the inner right thigh to gently press the knee away for a deeper stretch
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
10. Reclining Pigeon Pose (Variation Two)

Variation Two

  • If variation one provided a mild stretch, or no stretch, try variation two
  • Lift the left knee toward the chest so that the left foot comes off the ground
  • Right hand can rest on right knee to encourage length down the side body and hip
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
10. Reclining Pigeon Pose (Variation Three)

Variation Three

  • If variation two provided a mild stretch or not much sensation, try variation three; if the first two variations provided an adequate stretch, no need to proceed to this one
  • Lift the left knee toward the chest so that the left foot comes off the ground
  • Thread the right arm through the space between the legs and the left arm around the left shin
  • Clasp the fingers in an interlaced style to hold into the shin or back (as shown) or back of the left leg/hamstring
  • If the back of the neck or the back is arching excessively in this pose, go back to variation one or place a block underneath the head to avoid compressing the cervical vertebrae  - you want the back and neck to lie flat on the ground
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side

Benefits: 

  • Stretches the glute muscles, piriformis, outer hip and outer seam of the leg, low back and inner leg
11. Fire Log/ Agnistambhasana Pose

11. Fire Log/ Agnistambhasana Pose

  • If variations one and two of Reclined Pigeon pose were easy for you, try this one
  • Sit on the ground
  • Bend the left leg toward you and rest it on the ground
  • Bend the right leg and stack the right ankle on top of the left knee
  • If the right knee is lifted extremely high, or the ankle sickles, go back to Reclined Pigeon Variation One
  • Flex the right toes toward the right knee
  • Make sure the ankle is not sickled by pressing the big toe forward as you draw the pinkie-toes side of the foot back in order to protect the knee; another way to see if it is sickled is to look at the inside of the ankle - if there are wrinkles, lengthen the inner foot by pressing the big toe forward as if you were rooting into the earth until the wrinkles disappear 
  • Sit up tall
  • Lean forward, hinging from the hips and stop before the back begins to round
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side
Fire Log: If you can lean farther forward without pain or strain, then lean forward and rest the forearms (as pictured) or hands on the ground while keeping the hips rooted into the earth.
  • If you can lean farther forward without pain or strain, then lean forward and rest the forearms (as pictured) or hands on the ground while keeping the hips rooted into the earth
  • Hold for three to eight breaths
  • Repeat on other side

Benefits: 

  • Stretches the glute muscles, piriformis, outer hip and outer seam of the leg and back and neck if doing variation two
  • Decompresses the spine
  • Calms the nervous system because it is a forward fold
  • Shifts the energy from active to passive by turning the gaze down especially if eyes are closed

Post-run yoga: Develop your own routine to speed recovery

If 11 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. 
  • Add poses from this sequence to poses from post-run yoga for runners Part One and Part Two.
  • 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. 

Questions about poses? Please post in the comments. 

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

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

Comments

John Jeren Wow. Great article. Really informative. Flexibility is something I've always struggled with as a runner. Thanks.

Brynn Cunningham Thanks, John. Hope it helps you run forever :)

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