Today I’ve got a great post-run stretching routine to release the major muscles used during your run, including the feet and legs (obviously), core, and back.
This sequence takes just about 12 minutes, and I use a gymboss interval timer to keep myself on track and make sure I’m stretching both sides evenly.
The sequence consists of four sets of three to four stretches per set, and I set my timer to 5 seconds “rest” and 30 seconds of stretching, for 6 rounds, so it looks like this:
Here are the stretches:
For stretch without an asterisk, complete the stretch on each side of your body for 30 seconds (for example, runner’s lunge on the left side for 30 seconds, runner’s lunge right side for 30 seconds, then move on to standing hip stretch on each side, etc.).
Stretches with an asterisk mean that you are effectively stretching both sides at the same time, and are not repeated.
Attention: Don’t do any static stretching unless your body is already warmed up, but even so always enter and release from stretches thoughtfully and deliberately. Use intention in your movements and use your breath, not your muscles, to move deeper into the pose. The point of this type of stretching is to focus your attention on each area of your body that’s just worked so hard during your run (or other workout as the case may be), to enjoy the relaxation and surrender of the movement, and to identify any areas that may feel especially tight or painful so you can begin other rehabilitative efforts (e.g. RICE).
Also, I’m not a doctor. Do what’s right for you and never push a stretch to the point where you feel pain. The last thing you want to do is sacrifice your ability to run for an extra 1mm of mobility. 🙂
Links to some images are in the stretch names. If any of these are new to you, I recommend you read through the description, look at the images, and practice them a bit to get comfortable getting into and out of them before introducing a timer.
We start out with a set covering most major leg muscles – hamstrings, calves, hips, and glutes (we’ll get deep into those quads in the next set). Make sure you enter and exit each pose with deliberate movement and use your breath to release and increase the intensity of the stretch.
- Runner’s lunge
- What you’re stretching: Hamstrings, calves, glutes
- How to do it: Come into a kneeling position and then extend one leg in front of you. Keep the extended leg as straight as possible with the foot flexed but don’t lock or hyper-extend the knee. Slowly lower your upper body toward the extended leg, pivoting at the hip and keeping the chest raised (as though trying to lay your stomach on your thigh) and place your hands on your hips, on the floor, or your foot if flexibility allows. Keep your abs contracted and your head in a neutral position, gazing toward your shin. After 30 seconds switch sides and repeat on the other leg.
- Standing hip stretch
- What you’re stretching: Hips and abductors (IT band area). You might also feel this along the outside of your calves.
- How to do it: Stand with feet together. Lift your right foot and cross it over the left so your pinkie toes are touching. Shift your weight into the left hip and allow it to push gently to the left. Optional: increase the distance between your feet to intensify the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
- Calf drop stretch
- What you’re stretching: calves and ankles
- How to do it: Stand on a raised edge (stairs work well, or a firm yoga block) and allow one heel to drop off the edge. Gently extend the heel toward the floor. Allow the knee of the other leg to bend slightly to increase the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Here’s our lunge set, with side and front lunges to really work the hips and quads. Always watch to make sure your knee doesn’t extend past your ankle and adjust your foot position if necessary.
- Side lunge
- What you’re stretching: adductors, glutes, ankles
- How to do it: Start in a standing position. Take a big step with one leg out to the side, keeping your torso and both feet facing forward. Bend the knee on the stepping leg to 90 degrees (or less, if 90 degrees is not possible), pushing your hips back and keeping your chest raised. Place your hands on your bent knee or on either side of that foot. After 30 seconds, straighten your knee and step back to the middle, then repeat on the other side.
- Drop-knee lunge
- What you’re stretching: hip flexors, quads,
- How to do it: Start in a table-top position on all fours with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Bring one leg forward and place the foot on the ground between your hands, keeping the knee bent. Use your bent knee to push your upper body up and place your hands on the bent knee. Gently press your back hip forward and toward the floor, allowing the front knee to bend more. Keep your back straight. If your hip flexors are very tight, you can keep your hands on the floor while working to gently press your hip forward. Don’t let your front knee extend over the front toes – if this is happening just back off on the stretch and move your front foot forward a bit, then return to the stretch.
- Lunge quad stretch
- What you’re stretching: hip flexors, quads
- How to do it: This is a pretty intense stretch for your quads, so if you’re not quite here yet you can repeat the drop-knee lunge or do an extended-leg lunge here instead. Come back into the drop-knee lunge position with your back straight and your hands on your knee. Lift your back foot off the floor and reach that same hand back to grab the top of the foot. Gently pull the foot toward your glutes. If flexibility allows, extend your other arm back to grasp with both arms. Advanced yogis can reach overhand to grab the foot.
This set involves a lot of knee work (twisting and compression) so if you have trouble with your knees make sure you are extra careful in these poses). We’re also really hitting our feet in this one, so it’s great for runners.
- Elevated pigeon
- What you’re stretching: hips, abductors, hip flexors
- How to do it: standing about one foot in front of a table, couch, bed, or other elevated surface, lift one leg and bend the knee. Rotate the knee outward and the foot inward toward your groin and place the foot on the elevated surface in front of you. Allow your knee to drop as close to the elevated surface as is comfortable. If your entire thigh and calf is comfortable on the surface, place your hands on the table and shift your weight into your raised leg and hands while you move your lower leg backward away from the table. This will deepen the stretch in your hip flexor. Return to start and repeat on the opposite side.
- Plantar fascia stretch
- What you’re stretching: bottom of the feet
- How to do it: Come into a kneeling position with your knees together and toes tucked under your feet. Reach back with your hands to make sure that all your toes are tucked (those little toes like to pop out!). Sit upright and allow the weight of your upper body to press down on your heels and through your feet. If this is comfortable, slowly begin to move your knees forward until you feel a deep stretch. If the pose is too intense, lean forward slightly to reduce the stress on your feet. This is never a comfortable pose for anyone, and this is one of the rare stretches where I suggest that you push your edge a bit. It should feel very intense but there should be absolutely NO sharp or shooting pain. Keep breathing and remember it’s only 30 seconds :). Since you’re doing both sides at the same time, there is no need to repeat this one.
- Hero pose
- What you’re stretching: quads, knees, ankles, deep compression in the calves
- How to do it: Start in the kneeling position again, this time with the tops of your feet flat on the floor. Keeping your knees together, move your feet far enough apart that you can begin to lower your hips between them. This may feel very intense in the knees, so be very careful about your movement into this pose if you’ve never done it before. If it is too intense, bring your feet closer together to support the weight of your upper body. For advanced heroes, feel free to drop back onto your elbows or come into full reclining hero pose.
- Plantar fascia press
- What you’re stretching: bottom of the feet
- How to do it: Starting again in a kneeling position with the tops of your feet on the floor, begin by shifting your right leg and hip back slightly so your knees are staggered just a bit (one to two inches). Place the top of your right foot onto the sole of your left foot, and then allow the weight of your upper body to press down onto your stacked feet. You should feel an intense compression in the plantar fascia of your left foot. Again, this is an intense position so just breath and either adjust your right foot a bit or shift your weight forward slightly if it is too intense. Repeat on the other side. As an alternative, you could sit on a chair and use a golf ball or baseball to roll the base of your foot. That way you can really control the pressure and decrease the intensity as needed.
This series targets the back and core, stretching and twisting in all directions. It’s my favorite!
- What you’re stretching: obliques, hamstring, adductors
- How to do it: Standing with feet wider than shoulder width apart, turn one foot outward to 90 degrees and turn the other foot inward to 45 degrees. Raise your arms to shoulder height and then extend your upper body toward the 90 degree foot, reaching out over those toes. Pivot at the hips and stretch your forward arm down to your shin and extend your back arm toward the sky. We are looking for a deep side body stretch here, so put less focus on getting your hand to the floor than on really opening up the chest and stretching through the torso. If you don’t feel the stretch in your side, raise your hand higher on your leg and make sure your hips are in line with your feet. It is common in this pose for people to push their hips back to try to get their hand to the floor, so it is helpful to not think of this pose as a hamstring stretch. Keep that tush tucked and the torso extended to reap the real benefits here. Return to starting position and repeat on the other side.
- What you’re stretching: front of the body, from hip flexors to neck, compression of the back
- How to do it: Start lying down on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders and your elbows up but close to your sides. Keeping your back and glute muscles relaxes, press up through your hands to lift your upper body off the floor. Make sure you don’t allow your shoulders to scrunch up around your neck – consciously roll your shoulder blades back and down. If you can extend your arms fully, an option is to slowly release the head backward to stretch the front of the neck. If your arms are not fully extended but the stretch in your front (or compression in your back) is intense, you can gently walk your hands forward until they are extended, and let your head fall back only if you are comfortable. Be careful with your neck and make sure this movement is slow and deliberate – both going into and exiting from the pose. Slowly lower to the floor and release your arms.
- Plow pose
- What you’re stretching: entire back of the body, compression on the front especially in the throat
- How to do it: There are two options here – full plow or half plough – but the process to enter is the same. Begin lying on your back with your knees bent. Bring your hands beside your hips and tent your fingers. Press down through your fingers and roll your lower body off the floor and over your upper body. Bring your hands to your lower back for support if needed. For half plow, keep your knees bent toward your face. For full plow, extend your legs straight and lower towards or to the floor. Make sure you don’t roll onto your cervical spine (the bumpy bit that sticks out on the back of your neck if you lean your head forward) – keep your weight on your shoulders and upper torso. You will feel a deep compression in your throat that makes some people really uncomfortable at first (it can be claustrophobic or a choking feeling). Try to breathe through the discomfort, but release if necessary. If plow isn’t working for you, feel free to substitute with a seated forward bend.
- Supine twist
- What you’re stretching: back and core
- How to do it: Lying on your back, extend your left leg out and bend the right knee toward your chest. Extend your arms along the floor to shoulder height. Slowly drop your right knee over the opposite hip (toward the left hand hand) and allow your foot to touch the floor. You can gently use your left hand to bring the right knee down, but make sure your right shoulder stays on the floor. Return to start and repeat on the other side. An alternative to the extended leg version is to keep both knees bent and drop both to the left, and then repeat on the right. Again, make sure your shoulders stay firmly planted to the floor the entire time. Try taking some really deep breaths in the twist and feel the compression in your chest.
Phew, this was a long one! Please let me know if you have any questions about the movements or descriptions. And I’d love to know: what’s your favorite post-run stretch?