Pictured above: Yoga teachers Rachel Grunwell (left) and Vincent Bolletta (right) demonstrate the pigeon yoga pose. Rachel is in the beginner version of the pose, while Vincent shows a more advanced version.
STRETCHES FOR RUNNERS
Stretching helps you to “move well” and “run well” – whether you are an elite athlete, or at the back-of-the-pack.
You don’t have to be super flexible to do this. It’s not about contorting your body into a pretzel…
Rather, it’s all about finding the point in a stretch that best benefits your body and ability. So ease into stretches. Don’t over-do it.
Stretching has an important place in your run training programme. It’s as important as hill runs, the longer runs, short runs, strength work and interval training.
Stretch before running – ideally doing moving, dynamic stretches for roughly a few minutes in order to prepare the body for moving well.
Meanwhile, stretching after a run is important to help bring length back to the muscles. It increases blood flow to the joints and working muscles.
Just one piece of guidance before you start. You should feel a stretch in each pose (and perhaps mild discomfort) in the muscles that I mention to target, but stop if you feel any pain. Better still, see a qualified yoga teacher or Personal Trainer for a session to get you started (and to check that you have the correct technique and alignment). Then you can do these stretches with peace of mind.
Reasons to stretch/try yoga:
1 Injury prevention. Keep on top of niggles, tight spots and imbalances.
2 Increase your range of mobility for speed. Do you need another reason?
3 Balance-style stretches and strengthening exercises can help with proprioception –ie knowing where your limbs are in space. This is crucial for trail running ie one slightly misplaced foot landing and your event can be all over sunshine.
4. Improve your posture. This helps you stand well, but also run well.
5. Improve your breath awareness i.e. using belly breathing. This can increase your use of oxygen and help you to run better for longer.
5. Improve switching on muscles /fire them properly which can help with injury prevention.
6. Learn how to focus the mind. Running a marathon comes down to the power of the mind to keep moving in those final stages of a race when your legs are screaming “stop”.
Try these 6 stretches.
1. This is a great inner thigh, heels and hips stretch. It also works the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and leg muscles. It strengthens the lower back, ankles and is good for the core too. It’s great for increasing your range of mobility. If you are trying this for the first time and can’t get your heels on the ground then you can prop them up with a rolled mat (like Vince has done pictured above). For a wide squat, you can press your elbows into your inner thighs so your legs don’t collapse inwards. Or you can hug your knees together for another version of the pose. Just keep your knees and toes facing forwards.
2. Butterfly pose
This is great for the groin, hips and inner thighs. If you are doing it for the first time then you could support the outer thighs with rolled-up mats or towels. Otherwise, start in a seated position (sit upright with good posture) and bring the soles of your feet together close to the groin area. You can next fold your chest down towards the ground . You can clasp your hands around your feet if you’re just starting out. Or if you’re a bit more advanced, rest your hands on the floor out in front of you and stretch your arms out forwards.
3.Reclining pigeon: This is a great hip-opener and to target the glutes. Lay on your back with knees bent, thighs parallel and hip distance apart. Then put your left ankle on the right thigh. Flex this foot. Then reach your hands around your right leg and bring it towards you – just until you feel the stretch and then hold this. Remember to breathe and relax your shoulders in this pose. Remember to do the other side.
4. Couch stretch: This is a great hip-opener and quad stretch, to name some benefits. Back up to a wall, or couch (or I used a box in the picture), and make sure you have a rolled up mat underneath your knee for support. Slide your right knee up close to the wall and put the front of this leg against the wall, engage the glutes. Step out with your left leg, keep the shin vertical and make sure the toes are tracking in line with this knee. Remember to do the other side.
5. Forward Fold. Great for the outer hips and hamstrings. Keep your feet close together, toes facing forwards, tilt from the pelvis and then rest your hands on your shins – or your feet if you can reach. Don’t worry about where you can reach to. I then put my arms in rag-doll position (like pictured). Remember to relax your neck in this pose and enjoy the feeling of having your head below your heart. I find inversions rejuvenating and help to clear the cobwebs from your mind too. I love running for that sensation too…
6. Pigeon pose
This is a great hip opener. It lengthens the hip flexors incredibly well. Just ease into the pose slowly; don’t rush or force it, particularly if you have knee issues. Start on all fours, then slide your left knee towards your left wrist. Keep your left heel near your right hip to start – but if this is too easy then bring this heel closer to your right hand and keep it flexed (your knee should be in line with your heel in the advanced stage of the pose if you are an experienced yogi). As you become more advanced you can put your right shin parallel with the front of the mat (but this takes time and should not be rushed into – Vince is showing this pose in the advanced form). Remember to do the other side. ps if you find this pose too challenging as a beginner, just do the reclining pigeon stretch for a period instead and then re-try pigeon pose later on.
ps here’s a bonus yoga stretch for the more advanced… it’s a more difficult version of pigeon pose with an added quad stretch – so it’s like combing the pigeon with the couch stretch! This one is extra juicy on the quad and hip areas. So it’s a double whammy. Breathe through this pose. Remember to do both the left and right sides 🙂