If you were one of the nearly 30,000 runners who participated in the Marine Corps Marathon on October 27th or the nearly 50,000 who raced in the New York City Marathon last weekend, chances are your legs are in need of a little TLC. Whether you get your kicks from 26.2 miles of pavement, triathalons, ultramarathons or century rides, it is important to take care of both your muscles and mind in the days and weeks after the big day. Endurance athletes are all about preparation—both mental and physical—but reparation is all too often belittled or altogether ignored. Unfortunately, if you do not take the time to rest and rehab your body post-event you’ll likely end up injured, derailing any training plans for your next hit of adrenaline.
Yoga is a great tool for recovery following an endurance event. Immediately after the big day, try doing five to 20 minutes of Legs Up the Wall every night for a few days to reduce inflammation. Once you've given yourself at least three days off, Yin Yoga is an excellent way to get blood circulating and lightly stretch healing muscles without overly stressing weary joints, tendons and ligaments. Even a more intensive Power Yoga class can be an ideal form of cross-training one week after high-intensity endurance activities.
One of my favorite yoga poses, which finds its way into Yin and Power Yoga classes alike, is Seated Straddle. Also known as Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend or Upavistha Konasana, this yoga pose is therapeutic for the lower back, hips, groin, inner thighs and hamstrings—in other words, it’s ideally suited for athletes of all kinds.
Ready to give it a try? Here’s my simple step-by-step:
1. Sit on the floor in a wide-legged straddle position with your legs spread to an angle of about 90 degrees—or approximately three to four feet between your heels. Dig your heels into the floor and bring your hands behind your hips. Press your hands against the floor and scooch your butt forward, widening the angle slightly farther without forcing it.
2. Rotate your thighs outwardly, shining kneecaps toward the ceiling. Flex or demi-point the feet. If you have tight hamstrings or are already feeling a stretch in this position, stay and breathe.
3. If you are ready to take the pose deeper, start to walk your hands between your legs but only go as far as you can while maintaining a flat back. Imagine you could eventually place your lower abs, belly button, chest, then forehead on the floor. Keep your focus on hinging from the hip joints with a long spine and continuing to point your kneecaps straight up. (Note: I like to breathe with the mental mantra: Inhale, long spine. Exhale, hinge and fold.)
4. Hold for 10 deep breaths then slowly returned to seated, keeping length in the torso.
5. For a slight variation, try folding over one leg at a time. To work deeper into the muscles of your right leg, walk your hands over to the right side, frame your leg with your hands or hold onto your ankle/calf, and fold forward. Take 10 deep breaths then move the torso and arms over to your left side, working into the muscles of the left leg.
6. To release, return to center, draw your legs together, and slowly roll all the way back. Lying on the floor, hug your knees to your chest and rock a little side to side.
While this pose is incredibly versatile, it is important to ease into it following endurance events as it can be pretty intense. If your lower back is stiff and you have trouble hinging forward from the hips, try sitting up on the edge of a folded blanket, bending your knees slightly, or even supporting the knees by placing rolled towels underneath as you move into the forward bend while keeping your kneecaps pointing toward the ceiling.
For more yoga poses to incorporate into your post-marathon recovery plan, check out the MOARfit Daily Dozen designed for athletes.