I Never Stretched After Running — Now, I Swear by a Full-On Zen Moment

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There are few things in life I've been diligent about, and I'm sorry to say that stretching has not made the list. Even after years of living a very active lifestyle and running multiple races, stretching after my runs just wasn't something I prioritized. But over the past few months, like many, I've taken many of my workouts indoors. With that has come many streaming workout classes, all of which, you guessed it, reserve a moment or two for stretching at the end of each class.

As I became more accustomed to expecting that moment of relief at the end of a hard workout, I realized it may be exactly what I was missing after my long runs. And so despite my years of running with little devoted time to stretching (I know, I'm shaking my head at past me, too), I decided to give myself a proper stretch after each run, and now I'm never looking back. Here's why:

It helps me compartmentalize

Over these past few months, my workouts, work life, and home life have all blended together. But once I started stretching and giving my body five to 10 minutes "off" from any of those three facets of life, I started to see the value of carving out a little moment of recovery. Typically after a workout class or run, I'd have a little commute home to switch from workout mode to home mode — but no more. Although I may not switch my wardrobe from workout to hangout — the UA Meridian Crop leggings ($60) are kind of ideal for both — adding in these moments of Zen have helped me keep all aspects of my life separate, something that's been a challenge for me these days.

It helps me de-stress

I wouldn't blame a single soul for being stressed these days. And while everyone handles stress differently, one of the best ways that I've found to unwind has been to opt for a few moments of stretching and meditation. While a run would normally help me cut some stress from my life, that's proving to not necessarily be the case. So, incorporating breathing exercises, lengthening stretches, and gentle moves have managed to slow my mind and body down from the outside world. Beyond the physical benefits of stretching, the mental ones have been a big part of my recovery process lately.

It gives me more energy

This one may sound a little out there as the whole point of stretching is often to relax the body post intense work, but hear me out. Now that I've started working on my flexibility and mobility, my body actually feels looser and more agile. The energy it would've normally spent on recovery or the soreness I would've normally felt after pushing myself too hard on a long run is actually minimal now — meaning I feel more revitalized after working out. I'm able to recover quicker, go about my day, and even push myself harder the next time I work out.

It helps me get stronger

Obviously, I knew stretching had its physical benefits, and for runners helps fight cramps, but because my goals were never to do a Crane pose in yoga, I figured I could get by without them. But now, I see that stretching actually helps the body build itself back up. Not only can low-impact mobility flows loosen the joints and muscles up but they can also also increase circulation. What's more, as I find myself sitting more and more each day at my work-from-home desk, it's imperative that I fight muscle shortening and weakening with solid stretches. As I've incorporated stretches into my day, I find my body — and mind — feels stronger, more energized, and recovered.