Need a short, stretchy practice to help alleviate muscle tightness from your run?
First, take your shoes off. The peroneal tendons along the outside of the calf appreciate fanning of the toes, so let them sprawl.
Then grab a rolled-up yoga mat, and give this series a try!
Cool-Down Yoga for Runners
1. For your feet: Yin toe squat
Come to kneeling with your legs and feet together (which will be more challenging) or slightly apart (a little less intense), tuck your toes under, and sit back on your heels.
Use your hands to space out your toes and aim to tuck all of them if you can (even the fourth and pinky toes). You may not be able to tolerate sitting on your heels when you start, and you may want to place your hands in front of you to support some of your body’s weight. After a few days of practice the balls of your feet will get more accustomed to the weight. Stay for five deep breaths.
For a slightly less intense variation, place a yoga block (at its highest setting) between your shins. Sit on the block and hug your feet and shins in toward it.
2. For your calves: Dynamic chair pose on a roll
From standing tall, place the balls of your feet on a rolled-up sticky mat (feet parallel to each other, heels on the floor). On an exhale, sit back into a shallow utkatasana (chair pose). On an inhale, rise back up to your starting position. Repeat five or six times and hold the last one for three breaths.
3. For your hamstrings, sartorius, and psoas: Lunge and pyramid variation on a roll
Keeping the ball of the right foot on the rolled-up mat, step the left foot back into a short lunge, feet about hip-width apart. Maintain a slight anterior (forward) pelvic tilt so that your lower back gently curves in. Stay for three breaths so your hamstrings have a chance to relax.
Then bring your hands to your hips, straighten your right leg, and hinge forward from your hips. Only fold halfway or less, and keep your spine long while leading with your heart to encourage the hamstring stretch. Stay for three breaths, then lift up with a long spine and repeat on the other side.
4. For your hips: Seated figure 4-stretch
Sit on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and your hands behind your hips, fingers pointing back away from you. Cross one ankle over the opposite thigh just above the knee and, keeping your spine long, reach your torso toward the elevated shin for five breaths or so for an outer hip stretch. Then repeat on the other side.
You can also do this in a chair, crossing one ankle over the opposite thigh and leaning forward.
5. Boost your energy: Conscious deep breathing in savasana
To boost your energy post-run and promote courage and stamina (which you may need when it comes to facing an especially daunting hill on your next run), conclude your stretch session with savasana (relaxation pose), practicing six-second inhales and six-second exhales. If that feels like too much, you can build up from a three-second count, gradually lengthening your inhales and exhales if and as you feel comfortable. Relax here, gradually letting go of the breath count for up to five minutes (longer if you have the time!).
Recently, a study at Northwestern University showed that cycles of conscious deep breathing through the nostrils positively affect areas of your brain associated with fear and memory. Another great reason to give yourself permission to rest after your run!