Best stretches for runners – Part 1

Jamie Wood (right) and I at a yoga retreat in September

In my post about why runners love yoga, I mentioned someone named Jamie Wood. Jamie is an amazing yoga instructor who owns and operates Sanga Retreats in Vancouver and Costa Rica. She’s smart, supportive and really just a beautiful person inside and out. She describes what she does as “providing people with the opportunity to push pause on life.” How awesome is that?

I had the opportunity to meet Jamie during a yoga retreat in September. During the retreat, she gave me a ton of advice about the best stretches for runners. She even went through a personalized stretching routine following one my runs. Rather than keep all those great tips to myself, I decided I’d reach out to Jamie and see if she could answer a few questions so I can share them here on my blog.

She did such an incredibly thorough job that I’m going to publish the post in two parts. Part one will focus on the best stretches for runners. Part two will look at stretching tips in general like the best times to stretch and how long to hold a stretch.

Here’s what Jamie had to say about the best stretches for runners:

Of course you would automatically think any stretch targeting the legs would be best, however you don’t want to neglect the rest of the body. In yoga we are always striving for balance. When balance is created in the body, we have synergy in our system. This creates a stronger, healthier and more supple body where soreness and injury is more likely to be prevented.

Although you may want to focus your attention stretching the main muscles in the lower body (quadriceps, adductors, hamstrings, calves and glutes), it is equally important to spend time on the muscles in the upper body. The muscles in the back, abdominals, arms and shoulders all play a key role when running. They help you stabilize, balance and move forward. So although you may feel the effects of your run primarily in the lower body, the upper is working just as hard.

A runner should incorporate the stretches listed below into their training every time they run. Depending on how long you run will determine the length of time you stretch. Just keep in mind the longer you have worked the body, the longer you should be stretching it. I would advise a minimum of 10 minutes to stretch after any run. It is also important to utilize a full breath when stretching. It will keep you focused and present.

When referring to a full breath, that is both the inhalation and exhalation. You want to have a minimum of 5 seconds for an inhale and 5 seconds for an exhale.

Because your heart rate will be high it is best to do the stretches in this order:

  • Half Moon – Standing tall, take both hands above your head, palms touch. Create an extension in your spine, as if you are growing taller and gently bend out of the waist to the left. You will feel a nice stretch up the right side of the body. Be careful not to dump the body weight into the left side, always grow tall out of the spine. If your shoulders are creeping up around your neck, draw them down your back, or release your left arm down beside you. Hold for min. 5 breaths. Repeat on the opposite side. (Stretches muscles at waistline, along the sides of upper body, arms, and along the spine)
  • Eagle Arms – Standing tall, take both arms out to either side at shoulder level. Bring your left arm under your right arm, crossing both arms at the elbow. Place your hands together, palms touch – or left hand grab the wrist of right. Keep eyes looking forward. Pause here for 5 breaths, this will be a deep stretch as is. After you have checked in and the muscles are starting to release you may want to play with bringing the elbows up towards the sky, or drawing the palms down toward the earth. Repeat on other side with your right arm wrapping under the left. (Stretches shoulders)
  • Forward Bend – Standing with feet 12 inches apart, gently bend the knees and fold forward over the body from the waist. Take as much of a bend in the knees as possible so your chest is resting on your upper thighs. Let your body hang like a rag doll. The hands can touch the floor or you can grab hold of either elbow. Stay here for 10 breaths. Bending the knees or straightening the legs will change the stretch so gently play around with it. When you come out, do so VERY slowly, stacking one vertebrae on top of the other with the head coming up LAST. (Stretches entire spine, loosens any stiffness in arms, shoulders and neck)
  • Standing Calf Stretch / Runners Stretch – With your arms extended and your back straight, place both palms on a sturdy surface, preferably a wall. Put the calf you want to stretch behind you, being sure to keep your heel pressed to the floor and the leg extended without hyper extending the knee. The other leg is in a lunged forward position in between the wall and the extended leg. Keeping your heel down, slowly bend your elbows and lean forward. Repeat on other side.
  • Kneeling Lunge with Rocking Motion – Plant your right foot in front of you making sure the knee lines up with the ankle. Lower your left knee onto the ground with the left leg extending behind. Both hands are planted firmly on either side of the right foot, either on the ground or on props such as blocks or books. Stay for a few breaths in this position, just taking notice of how the body is feeling. After you have checked-in, you can begin to rock back and forth extending and bending the right leg. You may need to adjust your hands. You inhale as you move forward and exhale as you move. Make small adjustments with your hips: RIGHT hip back slightly, LEFT hip forward slightly. You will feel this almost instantly up your entire right leg. Hold – 10 breaths. Repeat other side.
  • Butterfly / Bound Angle Pose – Come down to a comfortable seat, you may need to elevate the hips slightly by sitting on a folded towel or mat if your hips are tight. Place the soles of your feet together and allow gravity to gently pull your knees down. You may need to use a few books to prop the knees up if the stretch is too deep. For an added stretch you may want to lean forward slightly from the hips and see where the stretch goes…but remember there is no end goal in stretching so don’t force anything, just be present to your body on each day. Hold position for 10 breaths (Stretches inner thighs, groin, and lower back).
  • Through-The-Hole Stretch – Lie on your back with both knees bent, head remains on the floor. Cross your left leg so the outside ankle rests on your right thigh. Bring your left arm through the space between your legs and around the back of the right leg, clasp hands. If you can’t clasp hands use a towel or cloth and hold onto the ends. On each exhale draw your right thigh slightly closer to your chest, lifting the right foot off of the floor. Find your edge in the stretch then stay there and breathe. Remember to flex through both feet to protect the knees. Hold for 10 breaths. Repeat on opposite side. (Stretches hamstrings, glutes, and opens the hips)
  • Full Body Stretch – AHHHHHH. Lay down on the ground face up. Bring both arms above your head. On an inhale, reach the arms behind you and point the toes (stretch, stretch stretch as if someone is pulling you in opposite directions….release with an exhale) When you release, keep your arms above your head just relax the muscles. Hold the stretch for min 3 seconds, release for min 3 seconds. Do this 5 times. (Stretches muscles in arms, legs, torso, while stretching spinal column to its fullest length)

Want to know more about Jamie and Sanga Retreats? You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and her website. Stay tuned for Part two!

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