Yoga stretches for runners: a sequence to help you recover
Our short sequence of yoga stretches for runners targets the muscles that work the hardest when you’re on the trail
If you love running, you’re not likely to trade it in for anything if you don’t have to, but all those miles pounding trail can take their toll on your body over time, especially without proper recovery. Our goal is to keep you adventuring longer, and this short sequence of yoga stretches for runners is specially designed to target the muscles that work the hardest on the trail so you can get back to it faster.
There’s lots of good reasons to pair your running regimen with yoga. It’s a great way to decompress after pushing yourself, it helps you focus on your breath and of course there are many poses which stretch the muscles you use the most. As we discussed in our article on the benefits of yoga for runners, the primary running muscles are your quads, hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes and calf muscles, all of which work together to power you uphill and steady your momentum on the downhill. If you’re running downhill, you're likely to notice some compression in your spine after your run too.
We created this simple sequence of yoga stretches for runners that you can do as soon as you get home and kick off your best trail running shoes to aid recovery and feel better faster. If you’re a multi-sport athlete, you will also want to check out our yoga sequences for rock climbers and hikers.
For this practice, it will be useful to keep a towel or blanket nearby for extra padding, as well as two yoga blocks or large books.
1. Child’s pose (1-3 minutes)
Start in Child’s Pose, which provides a gentle stretch for your glutes, quads and low back while giving you a quiet space to settle down after your run. Just come on to your hands and knees, untuck your toes and sit back towards your heels, placing your forehead on the floor or on your forearms. If your knees don’t love this stretch, place a folded blanket or towel into the backs of your knees to create a little space in the knee joints. Close your eyes if it’s comfortable to do so and gently deepen your breath.
2. Downward dog (1-2 minutes)
Downward dog is a fantastic way to stretch your calves, and starts to open up your glutes and hamstrings too.
Come on to your hands and knees again but instead of placing your hands under your shoulders, move them about one hand print forward. Curl your toes under then lift your knees up and start to lift your hips up toward the ceiling making an upside down V-shape with your body. Push your hands forward and down and lift your sitting bones up and back in the opposite direction from your hands. Bend your right knee a little and straighten your left leg, sinking your heel down towards the ground (it doesn't have to touch!). After a couple of breaths here, change sides, then alternate a few more times until your calves are happy.
3. Forward bend (1 minute)
From downward dog, walk your feet forward to your hands to move into a standing forward bend. You can bend your knees any amount here. Rest your hands on the floor or place them on your shins or thighs for more support. Relax your neck, jaw and shoulders here which might still be carrying a little tension from your run.
4. Low lunge (1-2 minutes each side)
Your hip flexor muscles are working every step of your run to lift your knees up. Getting home and collapsing into a chair might sound like a good idea, but it doesn’t provide the therapeutic extension that this lunge will.
From your forward bend, step your left foot back to a lunge and bring your left knee down. Slide your left knee back so you have room for your hips to sink forward and down and little and you start to feel a stretch on the front of your left hip and thigh. You can keep your fingertips down on the ground or bring your palms up to your right thigh to aid the stretch.
5. Quad stretch (1 minute each side)
The quad muscles on the front of your thighs work hard to push you up the hill and control your descent.
From low lunge, climb your hands up onto your right thigh and lift your chest toward your chin a little. If your left knee is willing, bend it and reach your left hand back for your foot or ankle. Gently pull your heel closer to your glutes to deepen the stretch in your quads.
6. Half splits (1-2 minutes each side)
Running uphill is great for strengthening your hamstrings, which work to pull you up with each step, but this can cause them to feel stiff and sore.
From your quad stretch, release your foot, and place your hands back down on the floor. Slowly straighten your right leg as much as you can, moving your hands back a bit as you go. It is helpful to place your hands on yoga blocks or large books here. Gently press your right heel down, draw your toes and back towards you, and rock your toes from side to side to target all three hamstrings.
When you’re ready, bend your right knee again and step your left foot forward to your hands. Take a moment in another forward bend then step your right foot back to move through low lunge, quad stretch and half splits on the left leg.
7. Reclining pigeon (2-3 minutes each side)
This simple pose offers a juicy stretch of the glute muscles on your outer hips which work with your hamstrings on the uphills.
Come down onto your back and bend both knees. Cross your right ankle over your left knee then draw your legs in towards you a bit, reaching your hands through to clasp the back of your left thigh. Use your hands and your left leg to draw your right shin a bit closer to your chest, then gently rock your right shin side to side to spread the sensation in your right hip out across a wider area. When you feel ready, change sides then rest on your back for a few minutes to complete your practice.
8. Reclining twist (1-2 minutes each side)
Like any foot sport, running can increase the influence of gravity on your spine as the impact of each foot step increases the natural compression that your spine already experiences in the day to day. This can be amplified when you’re running downhill.
One of the best ways to decompress your spine is with a gentle twist, which does the same job as hanging from a bar but is less intense and requires no special apparatus. We like this twist because it also stretches your outer hip muscles like your glutes which can get tight on the trail.
Stay on your back and just cross your right thigh snugly over your left thigh like you’re sitting on a chair. Open your arms out wide, shift your hips a couple of inches to the right, and then bring your knees all the way over to the floor on your left. Don’t worry if your right shoulder lifts up off the floor a bit. If the floor feels too far away, you can place a pillow under your knees. Once you’re here, relax and let gravity do the work for a minute or two, then change sides.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.