Runners have become accustomed to incorporating a warmup routine into their training. After all, warming up is an easy way to ward off injuries and a necessity for getting the most out of higher intensity workouts. For these and other reasons, many of us have developed our own unique warmup ritual that we customarily implement at the beginning of our runs. These warm up activities become such an integral part of our routine that we often perform them without thinking twice about it. But how many of us do the same after a workout?
In this article, I want to make the case for developing a post-run recovery ritual to help you transition out of workout mode. Time-crunched athletes often find themselves rushing from a workout to one of life’s other commitments. This leaves us moving from one activity to another with little time to relax in between. But for the yang of every workout or activity, we need those complementary moments of yin to absorb the training and destress. Going through the day feeling high strung all the time is a recipe for poor health and less than optimal fitness.
Make it a Ritual
The best way to incorporate some post-run recovery time into your workout routine is to ritualize it. By that I mean find a habitual practice that works well for you and becomes more or less automatic. It does not need not be long, even a few minutes will do. The point is to make that a time to relax and begin the recovery process.
As a high school runner and later as a high school track coach, I came to realize how important that post-practice de-stressing time could be. After the end of a workout, runners might find a grassy spot on the track infield to relax and socialize. In those moments, some athletes stretch, some grab a water bottle or snack, others get out the foam roller or massage stick, and others simply lie on their backs and watch the clouds drift by. Different individuals have different rituals, but the overall effect is to provide a valuable transition out of workout mode.
As adults, whether we do solo or group workouts, we can still tap into that same post-track practice mood. Before rushing off to the next commitment, take a few minutes to relax, socialize or simply reflect upon the workout. To ritualize that time, it is helpful to find some sort of activity to perform. Consider developing longer and shorter versions of your ritual. On days when time is of the essence, at least perform the shorter version. On days when you have more time to spare, do the longer version.
Choose a set of stretches specific to your needs. Post-run, a short ritual might involve stretching the calves and quads; a longer ritual might also include the adductors ( the butterfly stretch) and psoas. Aim to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds and up to three minutes.
2. Yoga poses
Complement your stretching with yoga poses. The warrior I pose (virabhadrasana I) benefits runners by targeting the hip flexors. From there, you can move into the warrior II pose (virabhadrasana II). The standing forward bend (uttanasana) is a good way to gently stretch the hamstrings and loosen the lower back. The squat pose (malasana) is essential for keeping the ankles, hips, and back flexible. The legs-up-the-wall pose (viparita karani) aids the movement of blood from the legs after a run. For a more meditative pose or to simply take some time to watch the clouds drift by, try the corpse pose (savasana).
3. Foam roller and massage stick
If you have these tools with you, take some time to roll out your lower back, iliotibial band, quads, hamstrings, and calves. In addition to a foam roller and massage stick, use a lacrosse ball to target trigger points (e.g. in the back or hips) and a golf ball to target the plantar fascia on the bottom of the feet. If you don’t have these tools handy, you can simply use your thumb or hands for some light self-massage to target areas like the calves, hips, and lower back.
4. Water and/or snack
Rehydrating and refueling are, of course, important to include in your post-run ritual. This could simply involve grabbing a water bottle to sip from while doing some of the activities listed above.
5. Revisiting your warmup routine
If you use drills or dynamic stretches as part of your warmup routine, you can also revisit those in your post-run ritual.
Even the busiest of runners needs to add a post run recovery ritual to their training. Doing so will help all runners recover faster and stay injury free so you can stay on track to meet your goals.