Many people who run, jog, and walk, know the benefits of warm-ups and/or gentle stretching before heading out the door or hopping onto the treadmill. Not as many people realize that cooling down or gently stretching after exercising is also very important, particularly in certain large muscles such as the hamstrings, as well as for the hip joints and the iliotibial (IT) bands and calves.
For the best health of the lower half your body, preventing tightness, injury, and strain, it is a good idea to do some gentle stretches while your muscles are still warm.
Use the following to help you to keep the bounce in your stride, so that you reduce the amount of recovery time that you need between runs.
• Hip stretch – this actually helps you to gently stretch the IT bands and the hips. Lie on your back on a yoga mat, bending the knees with your feet flat on the mat. Place your left ankle just below your knee on your right thigh. Holding that position, lower your right leg outward so that your knee will eventually rest onto the floor and your left foot will be flat on the floor. Your left knee should be pointed at the ceiling. Hold that pose for 1 to 2 minutes and then switch legs.
• Hamstring stretch – this will stretch your calves and hamstrings. Roll up a towel and hold an end in each hand. Lie on your back on your yoga mat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the mat. Lift your right foot and place the center of your towel under the foot arch, continuing to hold the towel ends in your hands. Extend your right leg toward the ceiling, gently pulling on the towel ends and flexing your foot. Hold this pose for 1 minute then switch feet. Repeat a couple of times.
• Foot stretch – this will stretch out your feet and your calves. Begin on your mat on all fours with your toes curled back so that the bottoms of your toes are on the mat. Slowly bring your hips back and rest your behind on your heels. Walk your hands back from your knees toward your heels until you are sitting up straight. Rest your hands on your thighs and balance there for thirty seconds to 1 minute.
These simple, gentle, and quick stretches can make a significant difference in your injury prevention and in the comfort of your muscles and joints after each run.