Ahead of her yoga for athletes and sport teacher training starting on 9th January 2021, Sarah Ramsden shares her top stretches for runners of all abilities.
I work with runners a lot – from elite footballers through to the regular triathletes and park runners in my classes. Running is super repetitive and shortens so many muscles from hamstrings to groins, pectorals to abductors. Yoga is a fantastic compliment to the impact of running and helps prevent injury and increases longevity. These are my top stretches to make your running more efficient and feel lighter and easier.
But my top stretches may surprise you! If I could only choose five stretches then my focus would be ankle, foot and hip flexors every time. Hip flexors? The lifting and straightening the leg at each stride (constant hip flexion and knee extension) batters the quads – the three vasti and rectus femoris. Ankle and foot? Well, if the ankle can’t move fully to transmit movement from the legs, and if the toes can’t toe-off effectively then propulsion is hugely less efficient.
And of course, remember that runners are likely to be very restricted so poses need to be made really accessible and very, very simple.
1 – Quad stretch
Simple, effective and accessible – and every runner will thank you! Key point is to make sure that the pelvis stays neutral (so if lying on the mat push the public bone to the mat rather than lifting the butt). Knees hip width apart, avoid the knee drifting outwards, and keep the knee in a straight line with the hip (so no rotation of the knee!).
2 – Modified warrior 1
This is to stretch rectus femoris running from the pelvis to the patellar tendon below the knee. As it shortens it pulls hard on the front of the pelvis making it harder to maintain the neutral torso essential in running. Lengthen it and your running will be more efficient and feel lighter!
Feet hip width apart, shorter stride than classic Warrior 1 and on balls and toes of back foot. Keep pelvis absolutely neutral (tucking pelvis under and pulling public bone upwards), and bending the back knee to as close to 90 degrees as comfortable. You should feel a very strong stretch down the front of the thigh.
3 – Top of foot: plantar flexion
When we run, we articulate the ankle from dorsi-flexion (top of foot ‘flexed’ towards the knee) to plantar-flexion (foot pointed). If the ankle can’t articulate through these movements to transmit propulsion straight along the foot to the big toe, then efficiency is lost and compensation happens elsewhere – probably the knee.
This simple stretch restores movement potential along the top of the foot and your running feet will be happier and carry you forward more powerfully!. The trick with this one is to avoid the heels rolling out to try and get away from the stretch! So keep a straight line from heel to bug toe. Be aware that it can be very painful so maybe keep the hands on the mat to lessen the weight to the feet.
4 – Toes under: toe extension
Again for efficient propulsion – and running is all about propulsion! We toe-off at the big toe and all our propulsion should travel straight along the top of the foot (see above) directly to the big toe. As we toe-off the big toe is pushed back. Restriction at the toes limits propulsion. Again keep a straight line through the foot to the toe, and again this can be painful so maybe hands on the mat to relieve the pressure.
5 – Outside of hip: abductors
A kind of modified rotation that isn’t a rotation but a stretch to the outside of the hip! This area contracts to support the pelvis at every stride, so it ends up super shortened. So from seated, cross the left foot to the outside of the right knee. Keep half your weight on your left butt. Draw the left knee towards your right shoulder and start walking your left foot further to the right (this will be a toe-heel shuffle) until you feel a fabulous stretch in the outside of the left hip. Resist the urge to turn it into a rotation! Your hips will thank you at every stride!
Sarah Ramsden has worked with elite athletes for almost two decades, notably as long-term yoga teacher at Manchester City and Manchester United Football Clubs. Learn more about Sarah’s experience by visiting www.sportsyoga.co.uk.