Post-Race Recovery Yoga: Reboot Your Legs in Half the Time It Took to Run Your Half
Ah yes, I am all too familiar with that feeling after a long race: you get up out of bed the next morning, and your next few minutes of walking are marked by a particularly distinctive baby-step shuffle/hobble. This period of time, the day or so after a long race, is one in which yoga can highly benefit your post-race body, but when your post-race body does not perhaps feel... inclined to do very much yoga. Rest is undoubtedly very good, but just a short amount of movement can go a very long way towards getting you back on your next starting line, or regaining that regular bounce in your step on a run.
1. Begin with a yoga sequence that requires you to flow and move through poses, rather than remaining static.
Remember that speed does NOT matter here, but getting through a greater range of motion does. This helps loosen you up and discover any spots that have been secretly tightening up on you! As always, listen to your body, pause and breathe in any particular pose as you need. Your goal here is to get your blood flowing, to warm yourself up in order to settle into some nice restorative poses with less restriction.
One simple idea for a warmup sequence:
A. Cat-cow: from hands and knees, inhale to send gaze and tailbone up, exhale to round back in. Repeat as needed.
B. Downdog: tuck toes under to press into heels and work legs towards straight. Bend one knee, other knee to loosen up your calves.
C. Standing Sequence: step right foot up to Warrior I, pressing outer edge of back foot towards the floor. Open arms to face left side of mat, adjust back foot to 60 degree angle (be sure toes are still pointed in) for Warrior II. Keep the bend in your front knee as you send right hand up and back for Reverse Warrior, allowing left hand to rest on back leg. Now straighten front leg, tilt upper body forward and down for Triangle. Bend front knee, allow right hand to rest outside front foot (can place on yoga block if needed), and then sweep left hand all the way down to rest on inside of front foot for Low Lunge. Step back to downdog and repeat with left foot leading. After you do at least 1 round on each side, add a quad stretch in after your low lunge: bend your back leg knee, reach back with opposite hand and grab your foot (modification: grab a yoga strap wrapped around your foot). First kick your foot into your hand, then pull your heel towards you. Breathe and repeat this kick/pull motion as you feel. Be sure to keep sinking forward into the lunge throughout your quad stretch; this helps ensure you’re not stressing your back leg kneecap. Here's a video of the whole sequence described above!:
2. Now that you’ve taken your time through your warmup, pause and rest in a few restorative poses.
Going through a more full range of motion first will help you get more out of your restorative yin poses here—and make them a little less painful to settle into as well. Here are a few of my favorites to do post-race; they form a nice sequence so you can even do them in the order listed here.
A. Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana): Connect soles of your feet, especially pressing pinky-side edges together. Stack up a few pillows or yoga blocks—inhale tall, then exhale round forward to rest your forehead on your props. Pause up to 5 minutes. As you relax, remove a prop or two to get a deeper stretch.
B. Wide-legged Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana): Carefully pick up one knee from the inside edge—use your hands for support as you extend this leg straight. Repeat for second leg. Don’t go for the maximum intensity stretch here; instead just go for a medium stretch. You’re going to pause here for a while and you’ll feel it get deeper the longer you’re here! Press into your palms behind you to pick up your bum and then plant it back down; this helps make sure your weight is evenly distributed side to side. Now inhale tall, then exhale forward, keeping your spine tall. Just rest your forearms on the floor. If forearms can’t comfortably rest on the floor while maintaining a tall spine, place a folded blanket or two under your forearms. Just as in bound angle pose, use pillows/blocks to support your forehead and allow yourself to now round into and rest in the pose. Keep toes directed towards the ceiling. Pause 2-3 minutes.
C. Head-to-Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana): Carefully pick up one knee from the inside edge. Bend this leg to connect sole of foot with your extended leg. Square yourself off over your extended leg. Inhale tall through your spine, exhale to fold. Take hold of whatever is convenient here: your foot, your shin, or just rest palms on the floor. Pause for 6-10 breaths. Before repeating on second side, go to Marichyasana I described below.
D. Marichyasana I: Carefully gather up bent-leg knee—plant the sole of this foot on your mat with heel close to your bum. Plant opposite hand behind you for support. Reach up with other hand and inhale tall, then exhale and fold to reach forward. Now wrap reaching hand around your bent-leg knee, either taking hold of wrist of opposite hand or grabbing your shirt for support. Pause and breathe for 6-10 rounds, then carefully inhale back up and repeat C and D on second side.
E. Legs-up-the-Wall (Viparita Karani): No restorative post-race sequence feels quite complete without this one! Scoot sideways next to the wall first, then drop to forearms for support as you swivel your legs up the wall in one smooth motion. Wiggle your bum closer against the wall if need be. Tuck shoulderblades under your back so your chest is a little more open. Let palms rest up towards the sky. Relax, breathe, close your eyes for 5-10 minutes.
I wrote and tested this entire sequence the day after running a half marathon (10th lifetime half win!), so I hope it helps speed you along on the way to recovery just as it did for me! For additional yoga videos, Find a Workout right here. Enjoy! I'm sure I'll be coming back to this sequence a few more times this fall, especially after racing the American Family Fitness Half in Richmond this November. The more hills in that 13.1, the more recovery yoga you need!