Stretching and ﬂexing can help aid your recovery after those long runs. Yoga teacher Helen Clare shows us six great yoga poses to try out
Downward facing dog
Great for: Re-lengthening and decompressing the spine, releasing tension in hamstrings and calves.
This is such a great pose to do after any activity and is always the first pose I do after a run to begin re-lengthening my muscles and spine. Long distance running accumulates so much compression in the spinal discs, so is it a big cause of lower back pain in runners.
How to: Start on your hands and knees, push into your hands to lift the knees and guide your hips up and back, lengthening your spine. Only then start to think about lowering your heels towards the ground. If your hamstrings are tight then this pose will be hard at first, so primarily think about lengthening the back and arms by keeping a bend in the knees.
Hold for five breaths.
Great for: Releasing tension in the hip flexors – a major area of tension in runners – created by the continual contraction of the hip flexors each time you lift your knee.
How to: From Down Dog, step one foot forward, bringing the ankle under the knee. Place your hands on your front thigh and lower your tail bone toward the ground as you sink your hips until you feel a deep but comfortable stretch in the front of your hip. Hands can also be on the floor or resting on blocks either side of you.
Your front knee should be above your ankle, or you can take it slightly past the ankle to increase the stretch in the calf and Achilles. Use a blanket under your back knee for added comfort.
Take five deep slow breaths, focusing on the hip flexors in the front of the hip of the back leg, exhaling out the tension.
Great for: Hips! This is an intense stretch for the gluteals and the deeper piriformis. All the hip muscles get tight from running, which if left, can lead to back pain and knee problems. This pose gets deep and releases tension in the piriformis muscle.
Do: Move into this pose extra slowly, especially if you have any knee issues, due to the hip flexion and body weight over the knee.
How to: Begin in Down Dog or on hands and knees, then bring your right foot towards your left hand. Bring your shin to the ground with your right foot by your left hip.
Check your back leg is out straight behind you and your hips are level, no matter how high they are! With tight hips you won’t get them both to the ground – support yourself with a blanket roll or cushion under the right hip. Start upright then extend your torso forward. Take five to 15 breaths, enjoy a deep stretch but come up if too intense.
Repeat on the other side.
Great for: Releasing tight hamstrings. Your hamstrings obviously contract each time you take your foot back, so carefully stretching them out post-run helps to release this built up tension, hugely reducing the risk of muscle tears.
How to: From the Low Lunge, step the back foot forward, place your hands on your hips and come up half way. Extend your spine by looking forwards and level your hips. Remain here, or take your hands to the floor or rest them on blocks, keep the spine long for another breath before exhaling and folding over your front leg to your own degree.
Find the stretch in the belly of the hamstrings, keeping a bend in the front knee as required. For an additional shoulder stretch, interlace your fingers behind your back.
Hold for five breaths, replace your hands back on your hips and inhale up with a long spine, naval drawing in.
Great for: Opening the chest, drawing back the shoulders; stretching the psoas. Many runners start to feel their shoulders hunching forwards, due to the forward motion; use this pose to create awareness of drawing the shoulders back. This will improve your posture and running form.
How to: Lie on your back, bend your knees so your ankles are under your knees, feet parallel. Press your hands and feet down as you lift your hips up, keeping your head and neck on the ground.
There are various arm positions for this – a nice addition is interlacing the fingers to gain extra lift. Keep the chest lifting the shoulder blades moving in toward each other.
Take five breaths, one to three repetitions. Come down slowly and hug your knees in towards your chest
Why? Aside from releasing tension through mindful stretching and strengthening, increasing lung capacity and developing focus, yoga allows your body to relax and replenish.
Conscious relaxation is easier when muscles have been stretched out, so take the time to do this pose for five minutes at the end. Mentally scan through your whole body and encourage each area to relax.
Give yourself this time to rejuvenate and you will recover in between training and competition quicker.
Helen Clare is an experienced yoga teacher based in Cornwall. She teaches classes in Cornwall and leads yoga retreats combined with sports around the world. A keen runner and surfer, Helen is dedicated to spreading the health benefits of yoga and works closely with many athletes as part of their cross-training, injury prevention and therapy.