5 Exercises to Restore Your Muscles After a Hard Run

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5 Exercises to Restore Your Muscles After a Hard Run


Written by fitness expert Chris. Last updated:

Proper muscle recovery is essential to prevent running injuries and to help facilitate the healing and building of your muscles. Stronger muscles are built via small tears created during exercise. During the rest and recovery period following a run, your body is working hard to repair these micro damages that have occurred. Further, your body is clearing toxins from these areas and bringing nutrients and cells to help heal these regions. Although our body is very much capable of eventually returning functioning back to normal after exercise, there are certain things you can do that may speed the process along. As most of us know, it is important to hydrate before, during, and after your run, as well as refuel the body with a meal within an hour after your run. What you put in your body counts just as much for your overall health as exercise does. The “you are what you eat” mantra is not entirely far from the truth.

Further, specific exercises can make the restoration and recovery process more efficient and effective. A combination of static and dynamic stretches within the first half hour after your run provide an appropriate cooldown that may aid in restoring your muscles, reducing the possibility of delayed onset muscle soreness. The following exercises may help you recover after those tough runs and reduce your risk of running injuries, keeping your goals on track!

Calf Stretch

The calves are responsible for starting and stopping your running stride. Often referred to as the break and gas pedal in running, stretching of this muscle is necessary to prevent stiff legs from occurring.

How to:

  1. Stand in front of a wall. Place both hands on the wall.
  2. Step the right leg back, and bend the front leg, leaning into the wall. Make sure to keep the back heel pushed down into the ground.
  3. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds, and repeat 2-3 times for both sides.

Tips & Tricks:

  • If you have fairly tight calf muscles, stretching for less amount of time works as well. If there is pain at any point during the stretch, stop or ease off.
  • To stretch the smaller soleus muscle on the lower part of the calf, slightly bend the back leg and repeat the stretch with this minor alteration.

Hip Flexor Stretch

The hip flexors can be problematic for many runners. They can cause running injuries and really hinder a training plan. Thus, it is essential to stretch the hip flexors after any run.

How To:

  1. Begin in a low lunge position on a mat. One foot should be directly under the front knee and your opposite knee should be directly below your hips, resting on the ground.
  2. Keeping your torso upright, slowly lean the body forward into the front knee.
  3. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and do 2-3 times for each leg.

Tips & Tricks:

  • Make sure to keep the torso upright and back throughout the exercise. Leaning forward will not help stretch out the hip flexors.
  • You should feel a gentle stretch in the front of the hip. If you don’t feel a stretch, try doing the same stretch but in standing, with your back leg resting on a chair or stool.

Leg Swings

Leg swings can help get the blood flowing, which means clearing out toxins from the muscles and bringing proper nutrients and cells to help with repair of the muscles.

How To:

  1. Stand tall with a chair or wall to your side. Slowly swing one leg forward and back.
  2. Repeat 10 times for each leg, and do 2-3 sets.
  3. Next, stand facing a chair or wall. Slowly swing one leg side to side.
  4. Repeat 10 times for each leg, and do 2-3 sets.

Tips & Tricks:

  • Make sure to keep the upper body relatively stable throughout the exercise. Swing the legs from the hip joint, and keep the knees soft.

Hamstring Stretch on the Wall

The hamstring muscles are responsible for knee flexion. Since knee flexion is consistent in the running stride, it isn’t surprising that many runners experience tight hamstrings. Stretching out these muscles is vital for recovery and to reduce the risk of injury, such as hamstring strains.

How To:

  1. Lie face up on a mat in a doorway.
  2. Place one leg straight up on the wall, bringing your buttocks as close as you can toward the wall.
  3. Rest the opposite leg through the doorway either flat on the ground or with the knee bent and foot flat.
  4. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds. Do each leg 2-3 times.

Tips & Tricks:

  • Make sure to keep the back flat on the mat. Do not arch the back, and relax your body while holding the position for the recommended duration.

Knee to Chest Holds

Lower back pain is common in many runners. The knee to chest stretch can help stretch out the lower back and glute muscles, easing any discomforts in these areas. Further, a foam roller can be used on the glutes to help with releasing tightness.

How To:

  1. Lie flat on your back, with your legs straight in front.
  2. Bring one knee to your chest, and hold it in that position with both hands.
  3. Hold for 20-30 seconds, and do 2-3 times for each side.

Tips & Tricks:

  • If you don’t feel enough a stretch through the glutes or lower back, try completing the stretch off the edge of a bed. Make sure your buttocks is right at the edge of the bed, and you can leave the non-stretched leg dangling. This will further give a slight stretch through the hip flexors.
  • Keep the shoulders and neck relaxed throughout the exercise.

Recovery and restoration of your muscles after a hard run is important to prevent injuries and ensure you reach your running goals in a timely fashion. Including an appropriate cooldown, such as the exercises outlined above, after your run may help decrease post-workout soreness. It may further keep your energy levels up and keep your training plan in check.

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