Improve your flexibility to help your running
When you set yourself a running goal, be it couch to 5k, 10k, half or full marathon, a natural first step is to make a plan; follow a training schedule; or better still, get some personalised training and coaching from a PT. Training should combine multiple factors, with most runners looking to improve strength, speed and endurance. Unfortunately, flexibility is often at best marginalised or at worst forgotten all together; but a flexible body is going to help you in several ways:
Improve your range of motion
Help recover more quickly from your training
Reduce the chances of picking up an injury
Enhance gains in your strength and endurance
Stretching and lengthening your muscles feels great and helps you realign postural imbalances, as well as bringing fresh blood and oxygen, aiding recovery after a hard run by reducing lactic acid that will have built up. Yoga is a calming and relaxing way to incorporate stretching and flexibility work into your running week. It’s worth asking for recommendations in your local area for a good teacher, who can help you with the right form to ensure you get the most from each pose.
To get you started, try these yoga poses to stretch and lengthen some of the major running muscles. Make sure your muscles are warmed up before stretching, after a run is ideal. If you are new to this style of stretching, are injured or have a very limited range of motion, remember to just take the pose to where you feel comfortable and if you feel pain then ease off or stop. You should try and hold the pose for 30 seconds or five deep breaths to begin with, increasing the time/number of breaths with experience. With regular yoga practise you will improve with time.
Hamstrings - Forward Fold:
Start with a 90 degree forward bend. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, inhale and as you exhale slide your hands down your thighs until they are just above your knees. Tilt your pelvis forwards slightly to reduce the pressure on your lower back. Look down at the floor.
To stretch deeper, repeat the above but slide your hands down further, until your fingertips touch the floor either side of your feet. Bend your knees if you find this difficult, or rest your hands on a block or box).
You can do similar stretches while seated, too. This way you can stretch one leg at a time, too.
Hamstrings / Calves – Pyramid:
Ensure your feet are facing front and hip-distance apart. Step one foot forwards, sweep your arms behind your back and hold onto your elbows. While breathing out, forward bend 90 degrees. Keep your back straight. Raise up by bending your front knee and engaging your abdomen and switch legs.
To stretch further, repeat above, but bring your fingertips to the floor either side of your feet. If they don’t reach, use a block of box.
Quadriceps - Basic Quad Stretch:
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, facing a wall or somewhere that you can balance against if necessary. Bend one leg and reach back for your foot with the hand on the same side. If you find this hard, then loop an exercise strap or band around your foot and grab that. Keep your knees level and ensure your bottom isn’t sticking out.
You can increase the stretch by moving to Dancer’s Pose by pulling your leg back further, hinge at the hips and lean forwards with your other arm outstretched in front of you.
Glutes - Figure Four:
Lie back with both legs bent, feet on the floor. Lift one leg over the other, resting your shin just above your knee. Reaching
through the gap between your legs lace your fingers around your bent thigh and gently pull back until you feel the stretch at the top of your thighs. To increase this stretch, reach to your shin instead.
Hip Adductors – Cobbler Pose:
Sit tall (you can use a cushion or a block under your hips if you
find this difficult or painful). Bring the soles of your feet together. To stretch further, bring your heels closer to your pelvis. Wrap your fingers around your feet and straighten your back. You can increase the stretch by pushing your elbows against your inner thighs.
Improving your stretching and flexibility will take time, so don’t expect a quick fix solution to any running problems, but stick with it and you will see improvements in not only your running, but everyday life.