If there is one muscle group that plagues runners most it’s the hamstrings.
Whenever I try to convince runners to take up yoga, they often respond with the same excuse, “I can’t, my hamstrings are too tight, I can’t even touch my toes.” And I often use the same quote as my response to them:
“Saying you’re not flexible enough for yoga is like saying you’re too dirty for a bath.”
Those tight runner’s hamstrings are the exact reason you should try a class. If you can’t get to a class, at least try these simple hamstring stretches after your runs. I promise, even a few minutes of stretching a couple times a week will make a huge difference in your flexibility.
Uttanasana: This is the most basic of hamstring stretches you likely do half-heartedly after a run.
- Stand with your feet hips-width distance apart — equal to about two fists between your feet.
- Bend your knees any amount and slowly fold over your legs. Make sure to hinge from the hips as opposed to the low back, bending the knees will help with this.
- Take 5 to 10 rounds of breaths here. You can let your hands dangle or grab hold of opposite elbows. You can also sway gently from side to side and shake out the neck, if it feels good to you.
- To come up, keep the knees bent, round up one vertebrae at a time, letting the head hang heavily until you come to standing.
Parsvottanasana: As a runner, I find this to be one of the most beneficial poses for loosening my hamstrings.
- Stand at the top of your mat then step the left foot back about 3 feet.
- Turn the back toes in to a 45 degree angle, toes pointing toward 10 o’clock. Your right foot should be facing straight ahead.
- Bring your hands to your hips and try to square your hips forward as much as possible.
- Slowly begin to fold over your legs until your torso is parallel with the floor, then release your hands to the ground, to blocks, or allow them to dangle. Your left hip will want to track backward. Try shifting your left hip point forward and your right hip back. Scissor your inner thighs like you’re holding a block between your legs.
- Stay here for 5 to 10 rounds of breath.
- Come back up the way you came down. Bring your hands to your hips and with a flat back reverse to standing. Walk your left foot to your right, then switch sides and repeat.
Supta Padangustasana: I rarely do stretches at home that require props, with the exception of this one, because it feels so amazing. If you have a yoga strap you can use it here but a belt, tie, or even a towel will work just as well.
- Lie on your back. Bend your right knee and draw it in toward your chest. Your left leg can either extend long down the mat or you can bend the left knee and keep the sole of your left foot on the mat.
- Loop your strap around the ball of your right foot, holding the ends of the strap in both hands.
- Begin to slowly extend your right leg skyward, keeping any amount of bend you need in the right leg.
- Once your leg is extended, flex through the foot and firm the knee onto the thighs. Stay here for 5 breaths as the hamstrings begin to soften.
- If you’d like to move further into this stretch, walk the hands up to strap while making sure to root the shoulder blades into the floor.
- Stay for a total of 10 breaths then bend the right knee back into the chest, release the strap and extend the right leg to meet the left. Switch sides.
These three stretches are my favorite yoga poses for hamstrings but there are plenty of others that can loosen and lengthen these pesky muscles. Remember to move gently and slowly, come into these poses with bent knees at first to protect the hamstring and the low back and extend the legs only when ready. Try these poses after each run to see and feel the difference after even just a week of stretching.
Written by Lisa Horvath.
Related: Check out the *NEW* WalkJogRun guide to Yoga for Runners