If you’re anything like so many other busy folks, you may not be taking the time to properly cool down with post run stretches. More likely, as soon as you hit your goal time or mileage, you jump into your car and head home or spend the rest of your day sitting at work. Resist that temptation and give your body some TLC at the end of your workout to prevent soreness, restore range of motion, and promote blood flow to those hard-working hips, ankles, and feet.
During any run, your body puts out a lot of effort. Your heart rate increases, you sweat and breathe more heavily, and your arms, legs, and feet repeat thousands of repetitions of the same back and forth movement. It’s a lot to ask of your body, and even though it might not seem like a big deal to skip your post run stretches and mobility, it’s definitely an instance of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure.
The important thing to realize is that leaving your muscles and joints to get stiff and immobile after a run is a sure way to increase your chances of incurring a running injury. The stiff soles of your feet after a trail run aren’t just vaguely uncomfortable. They can also prevent your ankle from achieving its full range of motion, which can affect your running form. Immobile ankles could mean you shift your weight into the front of your foot, putting more strain on your calf muscles, so your calves will probably start to ache during every run. With aching calves, your hamstrings might step up to take more of the load. And so on up the chain, with a domino effect of compensations, cramps, and aches.
Using the following movements, avoid ending up like the Tin Man—creaky, stiff, and uncomfortable—and keep your running game in its prime.
Start your cool down and stretching routine by walking the final 5-10 minutes of your route, whether on the road, trail, or treadmill. Take a second to untie your shoes — it’ll give your feet a chance to breathe, and it will take away the temptation to start running again or skip this part of the cool down altogether.
Plus, it feels good! Your feet tend to swell a bit when running from the impact and increased blood flow, so loosening your shoes to give them more room is a nice relief.
Once your walking cool down is complete, you’ll bring some of that dynamic movement we mentioned to your hips and hamstrings. If either area gets too tight or stiff, chances are not only will you feel some soreness the next day, but you may also experience lower back pain. Tight hip flexors can put tension on your pelvis, tipping it out of a neutral position. To read about the implications of hip posture on your running form, dive into this article, “Hip Posture: The #1 Way To Achieve Proper Run Form.”
For a hip flexor stretch, our go-to movement is hip circles. With this movement, you’ll get a nice, deep stretch in the front of the hip which may feel tight and stiff from the repetitive movement pattern of running.
Once you’ve opened up those hips, your hamstrings are primed for their turn.
Switch legs and repeat on the other side.
Use this opportunity to create a deeper range of ankle flexion than you typically get while running. Preserving range of motion and mobility in the ankles and calf muscles can go a long way to avoiding common running injuries such as Achilles heel pain and plantar fasciitis. Both of those injuries can occur when the muscles and ligaments throughout the calf, ankle, and foot become tight and restrict motion. You’ll work on your ankles and calves here, and get to your feet in the next section.
Repeat this motion for about 20 repetitions, then switch sides.
At the end of the movement chain, your feet do a lot of work. They absorb a ton of impact on each running step, help propel you into your next stride, and keep you balanced across the terrain. By taking a moment to stretch them at the end of your run, you’ll be able to undo some of that damage and build more flexibility and dexterity in your feet and toes. Plus, as with all these stretches, it just feels good!
With these simple moves, you’ll be so much better prepared to carry on with the rest of your day, your next run, and your injury-free training routine.
If your upper body is feeling like it needs an equal opportunity to cool down and mobilize, follow along with Coach Nate in this upper body stretching and mobility video:
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