The only thing that can possibly dampen a runner’s high is the post-run stiffness that follows. No runner is immune to it, no matter how many miles they’ve logged. Just ask Nell Rojas, a triathlete and long-distance runner who recently placed ninth at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
Rojas’s dad was a competitive runner, too; she grew up at the track. Once she hit high school, she realized she could follow in his footsteps and make something of herself in the running world. Later, at Northern Arizona University, she traveled with her team as a top-seven athlete. Post-college, she became a professional triathlete, then kept running for fun. Eventually, she wound up with the Olympic Trials achievement under her belt.
Despite all the running she’s done to get to where she is today, Rojas has always made sure not to overtrain, which has kept her body free of any career-altering injuries. And a huge part of taking care of herself is dealing with post-run stiffness head-on.
“Post-run stiffness is the worst. The key is being diligent about taking the time to take care of yourself after a run and especially hard workout,” she says. “I get most stiff after long runs, marathons, or half marathons. The repetition of the exact same muscles and similar stride length with no break really makes me stiff.”
First, to avoid stiffness after running, make sure you’re running with proper form:
How a professional long-distance runner deals with stiffness after running
1. Get your steps in every day
Rojas’s top tip to help combat stiffness is to walk it out. “The best way to help stiffness is to bring blood flow to your joints and muscles and bring back the mobility you may have lost,” she says. She does this by getting in as many steps as she can, making sure she keeps those steps the same length, for an hour or two. But even a quick walk around your neighborhood can help get your blood pumping.
2. Roll out your whole body
Since Rojas says her hips and feet get especially stiff after running, she always rolls out her body with a foam roller afterward for 5 to 10 minutes. That includes rolling out her feet with a lacrosse ball.
3. Do some resistance band exercises
After a run, Rojas turns to resistance band exercises for some relief. “I always do 1 to 3 band exercises, like banded clamshell, banded bridges, and banded lateral monster walks,” she says. These exercises are great for preventing both overuse and injury, as they strengthen and create balance in the body.
4. Stretch, stretch, and then stretch some more
There are so many different stretches you can do post-run. “I do some static stretches, which always includes half pigeon, runner’s lunge, and couch stretch,” she says. Designating this time to stretch your body out can do wonders in fighting off stiffness and allows you to keep up with your running schedule.
5. Do some strength training
Rojas is also a big fan of strength training. “After a quality workout, I do 60 to 80 minutes of strength work, which can be the best way to regain mobility after a run,” she says. Even doing a shorter strength training workout featuring your favorite full-body exercises can be highly effective.
6. Walk barefoot
One of the best ways to cool down post-run is walk around barefoot. “Some people will cool down for 5 to 10 minutes around the turf on the inside of the track barefoot for foot mobility, strength, and efficiency,” she says.
7. Switch it up
Even if you love running, make sure that’s not all you’re doing. Rojas says she cross trains to avoid running too many miles. “I like to swim twice a week, which promotes blood flow and relaxes my muscles a bit,” she says. You could also try Pilates, yoga—really anything that makes you feel good.
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