Congratulations on running the race of your life last weekend! I’m pretty sure you pushed really hard (but just within your limits) and it feels really good.
You know what else would feel good? How about a nice stretch after the race? Most runners do the pre-race rituals quite faithfully: nutrition, hydration, a proper warm-up. Yet we don’t take the same care after the race. Instead we immediately fall in line for our loot bags and skip the opportunity to cool down properly.
After a workout, your heart rate is still elevated and there’s more blood circulating in your arms and legs. A cool down with some stretches allows your heart rate to slow down gradually and gets your blood circulating freely through your body again. Stretches also help release tension from your muscles.
Try these eight stretches out the next time you finish a race. Consider it a celebration of all the hard work you’ve done.
(Hold each stretch for 20 seconds, or longer if it feels good.)
Chest & Back Stretch
purpose: releases tension through chest and back
You don’t use just your legs when you run; the upper body also plays a great role in propelling you forward. Give your chest and back muscles a stretch to help release any tension that built up during your race. It also helps you deepen your breathing, which floods your body with oxygen to aid recovery.
CHEST: Lace your fingers behind you, take a deep breath and roll your shoulders back, lifing and pushing the front of your chest outwards.
BACK: Lace your fingers in front of you. Breathe out, tuck your chin in, and push your palms forward. Feel your back expanding as your shoulder blades slide away from each other.
purpose: stretches quadricep muscles
If the race has quite a number of hills, you’ll have felt the muscles on the front of your legs heating up as you pushed yourself up those inclines. You also use your quads when you sprint to the finish line.
Find a wall or a post (or a friend willing to stand still) to hold onto so you can keep your balance. Pick up one foot and pull your heel in toward your butt. Keep your knee close to your other leg and pointing straight down to feel this stretch through the entire front of your leg. Don’t forget to stretch your other leg!
purpose: releases muscles around the hip joint
Some people complain of lower back pains after grueling workouts. Sometimes, the pain is caused not by strained back muscles, but by overly tight muscles surrounding their hips.
Support your balance. Place one ankle atop your opposite thigh. To keep your knee safe, flex your foot towards your shin. Gently start a sitting motion while pushing your knee outward with one hand. Switch to the other leg and repeat.
purpose: releases hip flexor and calf muscles
Let’s continue stretching your leg muscles out. When done correctly, the lunge stretches both the front of your hip and the back of your lower leg.
Step one leg way back, keeping the heel lifted and pushing backward. Turn your torso so your shoulders and hips face toward your front knee. Allow your front thigh to drop until it’s parallel to the floor. You may opt to step back in and change legs, or pivot on your feet to switch to the other side.
purpose: stretches hamstrings and glutes
Long-distance runners generally ought to use their hamstrings and glutes more, since these muscles groups have more slow-twitch fibers in them and are capable of great endurance.
Step one leg about one meter back and press your back heel to the floor. Tip forward from your hips, walking your hands down your front thigh. Start pushing your thighs and butt backwards, opening your sitbones to the back. You will feel this stretch in the back of your legs. You can keep your chest lifted, or if you have good hamstring flexibility you can try to bring nose toward knee. Repeat on the other side.
purpose: stretches hamstrings, lengthens spine, opens up chest
This is one yoga-based stretch I love because it touches so many muscle groups.
Step one leg back a little further than you would with Pyramid above, pressing your heel to the floor. your front toes should point forward, while your back toes can point out to a 90-degree angle. Bring your front hand to your shin or your thigh, then lift the other arm up to the sky. Your chest should open toward the side. Push your legs down into the floor and feel the stretch surge up your legs into your hips. Slide your hips sideways to lengthen through your lower back. Pull your shoulders away from your ears and breathe deeply. Change sides.
purpose: releases spinal tension
You can do this seated stretch on the sidewalk. Trust me, no one will laugh at you and your back will feel so much better.
Extend one leg forward. Cross the other leg over and plant the foot. Make sure both sitbones are anchored on the floor. Take a deep breath in to sit up straight, then exhale and turn your chest toward the bent knee. Keep sitting up straight to maintain the length in your spine, and hug your leg to your chest. This upward spiraling motion releases tension from your spinal muscles. Uncross your legs, switch sides, and twist the other way.
Seated Hamstring Stretch
purpose: stretches hamstrings further
Since you’re already seated, might as well throw one more stretch in, right?
Bring one foot in toward your inner thigh. Breathe in and sit up tall. Breathe out slowly, tipping forward from your hip until you can feel the stretch through the back of your extended leg. Push your chest forward to keep your back straight, which focuses the stretch in your hamstring and keeps tension out of your lower back. Remember, the point is not to touch your toes, but to stretch your hamstrings. Breathe in to sit up, switch legs, and breathe out to stretch forward again.
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