As I mentioned in my previous post for building upper body strength and flexibility, I’m currently training to run a half marathon. I love running for a multitude of reasons; not just physical but also the mental benefits that come from spending so much time on my feet.
Recovery and rest have always been difficult for me to prioritize; I would rather work out than get an extra hour of sleep. But while training for something, recovery and rest are just as, if not more, important than the actual program. My best runs usually come after two solid days of rest because I’ve given my body the chance to repair and recharge.
I think one of the most important aspects of recovery is proper stretching. I like to incorporate the following stretches 15 minutes after my paced runs and my long runs to help release any residual tension or soreness. This not only helps my sleep that night, but I also wake up less sore the following morning.
These stretches can also be performed on their own, although I recommend doing some movement prior to help warm the body up. As with any stretching routine, the goal is to ease yourself into the pose and deepen the stretch over time with breath.
Knee down Lunge
Knee down lunge is perfect for checking your hip alignment and stretching your hips. Usually in my yoga practice, I like to cycle a knee down lunge and a single leg hamstring stretch. Blocks are helpful in this pose for balance and keeping length in the back.
Instead of trying to get your stance as wide as possible, try to focus on keeping your pelvis aligned. I like to visualize an invisible string pulling my flexed hip back, while an equal invisible string pulls my lengthened hip forward, simultaneously. This engages my pelvis more and helps prevent my lower back from collapsing.
My favorite variation of this stretch brings the elbows to the mat while keeping the front knee over the toes and my spine long. I find that this variation also stretches my hamstrings, although it does require more flexibility. Below, I have both variations demonstrated.
Getting into the pose
Begin in tabletop position, knees stacked under hips and hands stacked under shoulders. Step your left foot in between your hands and inhale to lift the torso, shoulders stacking over hips. Hands can find blocks or the left knee for balance, right toes can be tucked or flat on the mat. Hold for five breaths then switch legs. For the variation, begin in kneeling lunge, then exhale and fold forward, allowing the forearms to rest on the mat. Left foot can open slightly to the outer edge of the foot.
Reclined Pigeon Pose
Pigeon is a staple in almost all of my stretching routines because, frankly, it just feels so good. This variation involves lying on your back, rather than seated or folded over your legs. Therefore, it allows you to control the amount of stretch you are getting in your hips and hamstrings.
Getting into the pose
Begin lying on your back, long spine, arms resting at your sides and knees bent with feet pressing evenly into the mat. Inhale and hug the left knee into the chest. Fold the left foot so it rests on the right quad. You can stay in the position or hook both hands behind the right quad and begin to lift the right leg towards your chest, while pressing the left knee away. Try to keep the back on the mat and avoid any crunching in the neck. Hold for five breaths then release both feet to the mat and repeat on the right side.
Forward Fold (Seated and Standing)
Forward folds, both standing and seated, are classic hamstring stretches that generally pop up in most yoga classes. I like to practice both seated forward folds and standing forward folds because I can focus on different things in each variation. In a standing forward fold, I like to focus on my upper bod and torso and surrendering to the natural pull of gravity. In a seated forward fold, I like to focus on finding length in my lower back and reaching evenly through my spine.
Both are equally great stretches but in my body, I find a seated forward fold to be slightly more intense. I have disproportionally long arms, so I sometimes use a block at the end on my feet in a seated fold to help find length. While standing, I will sometimes wrap my arms around my legs. In both poses, it’s important to ease into the stretch and not pull yourself into a fold, as injury may occur.
Getting into seated forward fold
Begin in a seated position with legs long in front, toes flexed towards the ceiling, and hands resting by your sides. Inhale, begin to lengthen the spine, hinge at the hips to gently fold forward, hands slide down the front of the legs. Hands can find the shins, feet, strap or a block and release the chin to chest. Hold for five breaths, reaching through the tailbone and crown of the head and then inhale to lift back to center.
Getting into standing forward fold
Begin standing with feet about hip width distance apart, soft bend at the knees, and arms resting at the sides. Inhale lift the arms overhead, reach long through the spine. Exhale hinge at the hips, release the torso and fold forward, rounding the spine evenly. Relax the crown of the head towards the mat. Hands can find the mat, some blocks, or grasp opposite elbows. Hold for five breaths and then inhale, soft bend at the knees and lift the torso back to stand.
Single Leg Bow Pose
I struggle a bit with finding good and accessible quad stretches because I used to play volleyball in high school and developed a hyper mobility in my quads. I also find quad stretches difficult because I tend to feel them more in my hamstrings or calves, where I am the most tight.
Bow pose is technically classified as a backbend because it involves lifting and opening through the upper while engaging the muscles in the back. For this variation, I bring my focus to my quads instead of my shoulders and upper back and breath into my pelvis. Keeping the lifted toes pointed and pressing the foot closer towards your hamstring will be a more intense stretch.
Getting into the pose
Begin lying on your stomach with feet hip width distance apart and arms resting at your side. Press evenly through the pelvis and bend at the right knee, sending the right foot towards your butt. Inhale and lift the torso slightly and hook the hands around the right foot. Exhale and begin to release the torso towards the mat, focusing on lifting and reaching through the right foot rather than pulling with the hands. Keep length in the spine through either a gentle torso lift or resting the forehead on the mat. Hold for five breaths then release the right foot and repeat with the left leg.