by Karli Taylor
A commonly and sometimes chronically injured tendon can be, both literally and figuratively, a runner's Achilles heel!
Both the strongest and largest tendon in the body, the Achilles absorbs the force of almost 10 times your body weight with every step that you take. In addition to taking constant abuse, the Achilles receives poor blood supply making it particularly susceptible to injury and, once injured, is slow to heal.
Achilles issues, both acute and chronic, account for more than ten percent of all running injuries. Typically these injuries are caused by building up mileage, speed or hill work too quickly coupled with a lack of cross-training or preventative care. In order to stop your Achilles from revolting against your training schedule, be sure to pay special attention to your calves when increasing your intensity.
The ability of the Achilles tendon to recoil and rebound (literally, the spring in your step) is essential for walking and running. However, any tightness in calves will be transferred through the Achilles tendon, limiting the flexion at the ankle.
Whether you have already suffered through an Achilles injury and are rehabbing or you are trying to get ahead of it with some pre-hab, stretching and strengthening your calves is essential. Warriors 1 and 2 are the perfect poses to prepare you for battle against Achilles injury.
Start by warming up your calves in a downward facing dog, adho mukha svanasana. With your feet about hips distance apart, straighten your left leg as much as you can while bending your right one. Hold the stretch for a count of 5, then switch sides. Continue to peddle out your heels 5 or 6 times. When your calves are warm, step your right foot in between your hands to prepare for Warrior 1, Virabhadrasana I.
Pivot on the ball of your left foot and drop your left heel to the floor with your toes turned out about 45 degrees from the heel. Bend your right knee directly over your right ankle so that your right thigh is parallel to the floor. With both feet firmly planted, slowly rise to a standing position with your arms reaching towards the ceiling, palms facing inward. If this is too much on your arms, bring your hands to your hips.
To align your hips, pull your right hip backward and your left hip forward to bring both hips in one line. In order to get the most calve benefit, focus on grounding into the entire left foot. If the heel doesn’t touch the ground, decrease the bend in your front knee or shorten your stance to alleviate some tension in the back calf. Hold for a few breaths and then return to downward facing dog to set up for the second side.
Warrior 2, Virabhadrasana II, is very similar to its predecessor. Follow that same set up, but instead of turning the back foot to 45 degrees, bring the pinky side edge of the back foot parallel to the back edge of a your mat. If you aren’t working with a mat, turn it to approximately 90 degrees. Click here for video
When you lift your arms this time, bring them out to your sides, parallel to the ground, with your palms facing the ground. Ground into both feet completely by pressing both edges of each foot into the ground. If your back heel is lifting off of the ground, make the same modifications that you made in Warrior 1 by shortening your stance and/or decreasing the bend in your front knee.
Keep in mind that both of these poses have a handful of subtle alignment adjustments that can make a world of difference to your experience. Make slight adjustments as you get comfortable and notice what happens in your body. There is no such thing as a perfect pose, so play with it a little bit!
In addition to both strengthening and stretching the calves, the Warrior poses have a laundry list of benefits that include:
In conjunction with adding these poses to your routine, there are a few things to be mindful of in order to take care of your Achilles. Start each run with a slower pace and ease into your full stride to make sure your calves are warmed up, be smart about increasing your intensity too quickly and stretch your calves well after each workout!
How to Strengthen Your Body When Running in the Snow: Bound angle pose, or Baddha Konasana
How to Strenthen the Hip Complex : Supta Kapotasana-Reclined Pigeon and Vajrasana - Thunderbolt Pose
Balance For Runners: Tree Pose or Vrksasana
Strengthening Your Back: Baddha Hasta Uttanasana, or Ragdoll
Combating Runner’s Butt - Ardha Matsyendra
Exercises to Help in Stability - Ananda Balasana
Stretching Hip Flexors – Anjaneyasana & Setu Bandha Sarvangasana