Yoga stretches pre-run & post-run to optimise your running
In a recent blog article, we explored the body and mind benefits that yoga brings to our running. This next article looks at some key yoga poses that can support and strengthen your running – just seven essential stretches to include in your pre-run warm-up and post-run cool-down. Make sure that you only try these postures if they are right for you and your body – be mindful of any niggles, strains, or injuries, modify the movements as necessary, and be gentle working only within your pain-free range of motion.
Read the previous article on the rationale for why yoga is supportive and complimentary to running, and how yoga can help optimise your running technique and performance.
Pre-run yoga poses
As tempting as it might be to head straight out on that run, a few simple yoga stretches before you start can better support your running, ensure the body is properly warmed up, and support a safer running experience.
Downward facing dog pose
This is a wonderful yoga pose that works the whole of the body. It is both an inversion (where the head is below the heart and hips) and a forward bend (posterior stretch of the back of the body). To move into downward facing dog pose from standing, take your feet hip width apart and fold forward from the hips bending your knees to bring your hands to the ground. Then walk the hands away from you until your body forms an inverted V shape.
Benefits: works on hamstring flexibility, strengthens the shoulders, and arms, supports flexibility in the hips, stretches out the spine and legs.
Tips: if the heels are a long way from the ground, then step your feet forwards a little to bring the heels closer to the ground. If the hamstrings are very tight, then bend the knees more to prevent the back from rounding.
Contraindications: do not practice this pose if you have shoulder, wrist, knee, or ankle injury. Do not practice during late term of pregnancy, or if you have high blood pressure.
Lizard pose with twist
This posture is a great stretch for the hips and adding a twist helps to open the upper back and engage the core muscles. From downward facing dog, step your right foot forward between the hands and bring the left knee down to the ground placing the top of the foot on the floor. The front leg bends and the back leg lengthens away. Keep the left hand flat on the ground and take the right hand to the front knee and twist. Repeat on the other side.
Benefits: opens the hips and chest, supports better hip flexibility, strengthens core muscles, improves spine flexibility.
Tips: check that the hips are pressing down towards the ground as you twist. Make sure that the knee of the bending leg is stacked on top of the ankle. If the twist is tricky, then practice the pose without the twist.
Contraindications: do not practice if any injuries to hips, knee, ankle, shoulders, and wrist. Be cautious and gentle if any lower back issues.
Side plank pose
Running uses the abdominal muscles and this pose will help build core strength. From downward facing dog, move into a high plank. From here, shift your weight to the right bringing the outside edge of the right foot on the ground with the left foot stacked on top. Keep pressing the right hand into the ground and release the left hand placing it on your hip or extending the arm straight up.
Benefits: strengthens core muscles, shoulders, wrists and arms, improves balance.
Tips: to reduce intensity try this pose with knees bent and both knees on the ground. To gradually build strength you can move dynamically in and out of the posture by lifting and lowering the hips.
Contraindications: do not try this pose if you have low or high blood pressure, or any injury or issue with wrist, elbow, or shoulders.
This is a lovely pose for the lower back, hips, and glutes – all important for the run. Lying on your back, bend your knees bringing your feet as close as you can towards the body. Place both feet flat on the ground hip width apart. Raise the hips and lower back and keep your shoulders pressing into the ground.
Benefits: improves hip flexibility, eases lower back tension, strengthens legs and glutes.
Tips: to increase the intensity then you can raise the arms as you raise the hips bringing the arms to the ground above the head with the palms facing upwards. As with side plank pose, if this posture is too intense when held statically, then work dynamically by raising and then lowering the hips and lower back.
Contraindications: avoid this posture if you have any neck or shoulder injury or issue. Proceed carefully if you have any lower back issues (it can be a helpful pose to build lower back strength but work gradually without straining), or knee injury.
Post-run yoga poses
These simple and effective yoga poses will help you stretch out the body after your run and support muscular balance.
A lovely stretch for the quads after the hard work they’ve put in on the run! Kneel on the ground keeping your inner knees together, then slide your feet apart wider than your hips and sit between the feet. Keep the top of the feet flat on the ground, if available to you.
Benefits: stretches the thighs, knees, and ankles, strengthens the arches of the feet, has a meditative calming effect on the mind.
Tips: if you have trouble reaching the ground to sit between the feet then rest on a folded blanket, cushion, or block – make sure that your pelvis is level and both sitting bones are evenly supported. If the ankles are uncomfortable, then you can place a rolled-up blanket underneath the ankles before entering this pose (as demonstrated in the photo!). If you would like to work more strongly then you can lend back supporting your weight in the hands and work towards bringing your elbows and then head onto the ground behind you.
Contraindications: do not try this posture if you have knee or ankle pain or injury. Avoid if you have heart problems or headaches.
This one is another great stretch for the hips. From downward facing dog (which feels good after a run as well as before!), bring your right knee forwards resting on the ground just behind the right hand. Either take the right foot out up and to the left so your shin is parallel to the front of your mat or let the right foot and shin angle backwards towards to left hip. Rest the left leg straight on the ground with the top of the foot flat on the floor. Repeat on the other side.
Benefits: opens the hips and improves hip flexibility, stretches the thigh, psoas, and hip flexors.
Tips: you can sit upright in this posture with one hand resting on the knee and the other hand on the ground as you gaze up, or you can fold forward bringing the arms and forehead to the ground. Check that your hips are level and not tipped to one side. If it is tricky to keep the hips square, then use a rolled-up blanket to ensure the hips are level.
Contraindications: avoid if you have injury to the spine or lower back, neck, shoulders or hips, and if you experience headaches or migraines.
Shoulder stand with eagle legs
The shoulder stand is a lovely counter-pose after running, although it is an advanced yoga pose so be careful when trying this posture. Lying on your back, raise your legs, hips, and lower back off the ground taking your hands to your lower back to support your weight. Work towards straightening the legs initially, then bend your right knee to bring your right leg in front of the left leg, hooking the right foot around the left leg if this is available to you. Repeat on the other leg.
Benefits: improves circulation, calms the body and mind, relieves back tension, helps to improve sleep, stretches the shoulders and neck.
Tips: do not move the head during shoulder stand – this helps to take good care of your neck. If eagle legs or straight legs are difficult, then work towards this gradually and keep the knees bent with the legs angled more towards the face. Check that your elbows are parallel. Keep your core muscles engaged.
Contraindications: do not practice shoulder stand if you have high blood pressure or any neck issues or concerns. Avoid this pose during pregnancy, and if you have eye problems such as detached retina and glaucoma. Some people choose not to practice this pose during menstruation.
So, why not give it a try – a few simple yoga stretches before and after your run to see if it makes a positive difference to you. Thank you for reading! 😊
Please make sure you are working safely within the capabilities and limits of your body. If you experience any pain when trying these postures, then stop immediately. If you have any concerns about trying these yoga stretches due to your personal physical health status then do consult with a trained professional beforehand.
Dr Kayleigh Darch appeared as guest blogger in 2022 to share articles about yoga and running.
Cooper, B. (2022). Yoga for runners. Yoga Alliance Professionals Training Academy.
The Good Body (2022). 10 yoga poses for runners: essential yoga poses pre and post running: https://www.thegoodbody.com/yoga-poses-for-runners/