Now that we’re all pros at doing dynamic warm-up stretches before we go out for our runs, I wanted to take some time to explain how to perform static stretches after your runs. You'll recognize some of these because we do them every week. Doing these stretches can ensure that you not only stay flexible, it can also help you lengthen some of those troublesome tendons (like the Achilles tendon) and connective tissue (like the IT band) to prevent those nagging injuries that are all too common in running.
Tight Achilles tendons are the bane of a runner’s existence. The Achilles tendon is one of the longer tendons in your legs. It stretches from your heel to your calf muscle and is heavily involved in forward propulsion. To stretch it effectively and also lengthen it over time, start in the famous yoga pose called Downward Dog. While in this position, cycle your feet by bending each knee one-by-one while keeping your other heel on or as close to the ground as possible, and repeat this as many times as it takes to feel some of the tension disappear. You can hold each stretch for up to 30 seconds, then alternate legs.
This stretch is an effective way to target and loosen your hip flexor muscles, a key muscle group involved in forward knee drive while running. To execute this stretch, lean forward and drive your back hip down toward the floor, while keeping your front knee right above your front ankle. In order to deepen the stretch, scoot your back leg further back. Your back knee should also be just behind the point of contact with the floor. Avoid directly pressing your patella bone (knee-cap) into the floor! Hold this stretch for up to 30 seconds, then alternate legs.
This is one of the rarely used but very effective stretches for your plantar fascia, the band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your toes. To execute this stretch, curl your toes underneath your foot and then sit back onto your heels. The tension on the bottom of your feet will be almost immediate so it’s important to relax into the stretch and hold it for a 5 to 10-second count before slowly coming out of it.
Toes Pose Counter Pose
It sounds redundant, but it’s anything but. This is a great stretch to perform right after the toes pose. Among other areas of the leg, it targets and stretches the muscles around your shins, the front part of the lower leg, between the knee and the ankle. Ever had shin splints? Yeah, not fun! This stretch if performed regularly could keep them at bay.
The IT (Iliotibial) band and piriformis muscle can be two notoriously troublesome muscles in your upper leg. The IT band runs along the lateral (outer) side of your leg from your hip to your outer knee and the piriformis muscle is a muscle located behind your gluteus maximus. The reclining pigeon stretch is not only a cool little stretch, it also effectively targets these areas. With your spine completely flat against the floor, draw your knee toward your chest and hold for up to 30 seconds. Then alternate legs. This is a glorious stretch!
Reclining Spinal Twist
While you’re still on your back, you can also perform a spinal twist which also stretches your IT band even more. Once you cross your legs and lower your knees to one side, open your arms wide and turn your head in the opposite direction for a maximal stretch!
If the spinal twist shown above feels too pretzel-y (yes, that’s a word) feel free to untie your legs and just rest one knee on top of the other knee. You can even use your closer hand to guide your knees down toward the floor and hold them there. Then open your other arm wide and turn your head in that direction.
A very special thanks to Runner’s World for a demonstration of these very helpful static stretches!
Want me to demonstrate some or all of these stretches? Catch me at the next Wednesday run!
Run better. Run smarter. Run for life.
Coach Mwangi is a USATF-Certified running coach and competitive runner. He is the former head coach at Rhode Runner and he has coached a wide range of athletes from milers to marathoners. He has has also written about a wide range of topics related to running training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.