There are many yoga poses that can release tightness and help prevent injury for runners—the trick is getting the right combination of poses to stretch, strengthen, lengthen, and support your running muscles. Start with these.
It’s no secret that running helps keep you fit. However, unless you take care of those legs, knees, and hips it can also lead to tight muscles, pain, or injury. Long-time runners are likely to have an encounter with at least one of the major muscles groups or joints pounded by the pavement: shins, knees, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, and glutes are the prime targets.
Fortunately, there are a plethora of yoga poses that can release tightness and help prevent injury. The trick is getting the right combination of poses to stretch, strengthen, lengthen, and support your running muscles. Try adding the following poses to your post workout queue.
1. Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose)
The quadriceps are one of the leading causes of knee pain. Properly stretching the front of your thighs can prevent knee injuries.
• Begin by balancing your weight on the right leg.
• Clasp the inside ankle of the left leg with your left hand.
• Extend the right arm overhead, palm facing inward.
• Once you are stable, pivot the hip.
• Flex the left foot and think of pulling it away from your body. This will give you a nice bonus stretch in the left arm.
• Slowly release and repeat on the other side.
Tip: To maintain balance, rest your eyes on something that is not moving.
2. Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch or Pyramid Pose)
This pose lengthens the hamstrings and can help prevent small muscle tears.
• Begin with the feet touching.
• Step the right foot back about 3 feet, keeping the heels in the same line as one another, right toes at a 45-degree angle.
• With a long spine, fold forward over the left leg. It is important to stay here for at least one minute. This will give your muscles time to stretch.
• Repeat on the other side.
Tip: If hamstrings are tight, place one block on each side of your foot and rest your hands there.
3. Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-legged Forward Bend Pose)
This wide-leg forward fold stretches hamstrings, inner thighs, and hips.
• Separate the feet about 4 feet wide. Make sure the toes are facing the same direction as your torso.
• Hinge forward at the hips, resting your hands on blocks, the floor, or reaching for the outside of your ankles.
Tip: Take care not to lock your knees.
4. Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
The IT band is a group of muscles that runs along the side of the leg. The two big muscles comprising the IT band are the gluteus maximus and tensor fascia latae. This yoga pose gets them both!
• From a seated position, place your right leg on top of the left, bringing the knees to the center line of your body. Knees should stack on top of one another.
• Flex your feet and either clasp them with your hands or bring your hands to heart center.
• To intensify the stretch, lean forward over the knees.
• Repeat on the other side.
Tip: Make sure both sit bones are rooted into the floor.
5. Upavistha Konasana (Wide-angled Seated Forward Bend Pose)
The comparatively small muscles of the inner thighs often take a backseat to the larger leg muscles. Yet, tight adductors can destabilize the knees and pull on the hip flexors.
• From a seated position, spread the legs out to the sides and flex the feet.
• Keeping the spine long, lean forward as far as possible with a straight spine.
Tip: Rest your forehead on a block for support as you fold.
6. Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
Regular running can actually shorten the muscles of the side body. Trikonasana helps to lengthen them. Extending the muscles of the side body can also contribute to a more natural running gait.
• Begin standing with feet about 4 feet apart.
• Turn your right foot out 90 degrees so that your toes face the top of the mat.
• Raise your arms so that they are shoulder height.
• Reach out through the right fingers as you shift out of your waist.
• When you cannot reach forward anymore, pivot the right hand down to rest on a block, your shin, or the floor; reach the left arm toward the sky.
• Repeat on the opposite side, reversing the direction of the feet.
Tip: Make sure that your top shoulder stays over the bottom one. There is a tendency for it to slump forward.
7. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-legged King Pigeon Pose)
This is the king of all hip stretches. It will release tightness in the glutes and piriformis.
• Begin on hands and knees.
• Slide the right knee behind the right hand.
• Stretch out the left leg behind you.
• Square your hips toward the floor.
• Walk your hands out in front of you.
• Repeat on the other side.
Tip: If your muscles are tight, slide a block under the glute of your bent knee.
8. Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
Most people remember this pose from grade school as “butterfly pose.” It stretches the adductors and increases the external rotation of the hips.
• From a seated position, pull your feet in toward your pelvis.
• Allow the knees to fall open wide.
• Lengthen your spine and hinge forward from the hips.
• Don’t round the spine in an effort to get the head to the feet. Instead, keep the spine extended.
Tip: Support your head with a block if it does not reach the floor.
9. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
This is a classic, tried-and-true yoga pose that stretches the hamstrings, calves, lower back, and glutes. As an added bonus, it elongates the muscles of the spine and releases tight shoulders.
• Stand with feet about 12 inches apart.
• Fold your torso forward over your legs.
• Walk the hands forward about 4 feet.
• Keep the hands shoulder-distance apart.
• Press evenly through the hands.
Tip: Lift the sit bones while sinking the heels toward the earth.
Special Thanks to Misty Park for modeling the poses.