After running a race, it’s tempting to fold yourself into the nearest chair and stay there until your legs say otherwise. But allowing time for some quick stretches before plopping down can be super helpful.
For one, gentle movements like stretches can help lengthen the muscles that you just worked during your run, including your hamstrings, quads, calves, shoulders, and neck muscles. By stretching these muscles—which tighten during work—you’ll give them much-needed relief and prepare them to go hard again the next time you lace up, physical therapist Brando Lakes, DPT, cofounder of Kinesadelic in NYC, tells SELF.
Stretching will also help you feel better in the aftermath of your race, or after any run, really—think less stiff and achy. Moreover, stretching the back of the leg from the knee down specifically can help reduce your risk of common runner ailments such as calf strains, Achilles tendinopathy (which causes pain in the back of the leg or above the heel), and plantar fasciitis (which causes pain in the bottom of the foot toward the heel), says Lakes. And stretching the front of the leg, from the hip to the knee, can reduce your chances of developing hip flexor strains (causing pain in the front of your hip), runner’s knee (pain in the front of knee), or IT band syndrome (which can cause pain on the outside of the knee or hip), he adds.
In short, there are several compelling reasons to stretch after your race, and the good news is, you don’t have to make stretching into a huge, complicated production. That’s why we have a simple, three-move sequence that you can easily do after your next big race. The routine below, which Lakes created for SELF, will bring relief in key areas, including your quads, hamstrings, calves, and upper body.
You don’t need any equipment to perform these quick stretches, and all of them can be done without sitting or lying on the ground, making this an easy sequence to do in public. Another plus: This sequence can double as a warm-up before your next run, says Lakes, so long as you do dynamic versions of the stretches instead of holding fixed positions.
Do the following quick stretch routine soon after your race or run. Hold the stretches for the time suggested below, or as long as they feel good. Remember, stretching may not feel super pleasant, but it should never feel painful.
Quick caveat: Depending on how far you ran and at what intensity, the following sequence may not be enough of a cool-down for you. Nevertheless, it will still do you some good, and can even hold you over until you have more time for a more comprehensive stretch. Every bit of stretching counts!
The Stretch Routine
What you need: Nothing—no need for a mat here.
Standing dynamic hamstring stretchLunging hip flexor stretchOverhead triceps and shoulder stretch
Hold each stretch for the recommended amount of time or reps, then go directly into the next stretch.Complete one round total—and feel free to repeat as needed if you have a little more time!
Demoing the moves below are Grace Pulliam (GIF 1), an aerial yoga and Vinyasa yoga teacher in New York City; Jessica Rihal (GIF 2), a plus-size yoga instructor (200-HR) and a strong advocate of fitness and wellness for all bodies; and Caitlyn Seitz, a New York–based group fitness instructor and singer/songwriter.