Downward Facing Dog Pose – a full body stretch for every athlete

This full body posterior stretch is an excellent fundamental pose for both lengthening and strengthening your body. It builds strong wrists, arms and shoulders, while releasing tension in your back, hips, hamstrings, calves and ankles. Both runners and cyclists can benefit from the all-over stretch. For swimmers, this pose can help build upper body strength and aid in learning how to keep the scapula broad while the shoulder is active.

Method

  1. Begin on all fours, knees under hips and hip distance apart – sit back towards your heels while stretching your arms forward, keeping them shoulder width apart.
  2. Press your palms firmly down, with your fingers spread flat and the middle finger pointing directly forward – lift yourself back onto all fours – your hands will be slightly in front of your shoulders now.
  3. On an inhale raise your hips and simultaneously straighten your arms and legs to make a pyramid shape – stay on the balls of your toes unless your heels reach the floor – create a strong lifting effect from your hands to your tailbone and a lengthening effect from your buttocks to your heels by pressing down through your hands and heels.
  4. Keep your neck straight and your head positioned between your arms (don’t let it hang down)
  5. Beginners – for many athletes, tightness in their shoulders, back and hamstrings and/or calves make it impossible to fully straighten in this pose. Use the following modifications: (i) Extremely stiff? Place a chair against the wall, and then create the pose by pressing your hands flat onto the seat of the chair – the added height should allow you to straighten your limbs and back more effectively. Remain on the balls of your toes if this allows you to keep both your back and legs straighter. (ii) Tight shoulders and back? keep a bend in your knees and focus on the first 3 points below. (iii) Tight hamstrings/calves? focus on the last 2 points below.
  6. Remain in this pose for 30-60 seconds, or 12-20 full relaxed breaths.

Deepen the pose:

  • Broadening your shoulders across your back and releasing the muscles around your neck,
  • Drawing your belly button in and tilting your hips to lift your tailbone upwards,
  • Breathing fully and deeply through the front, back and sides of your ribcage and diaphragm,
  • Roll your thighs slightly inward, and then squeeze your thighs into the leg bone while lifting your kneecaps,
  • Maintaining the inner arch strength of your feet by pressing equally through the four points of ball of big toe, little toe, outer heel and inner heel.

Variations to warm-up and cool-down from activity

Begin in Downward Facing Dog pose and modify as follows:

Marching – warm up

Start with both knees bent – straighten one leg then the other, alternating as if walking at a slow rhythmic pace for 15-20 secs. You can vary the stretch through your legs by turning your feet inwards and outwards to better target all the leg muscles active in running and cycling.

Bent Knees – calves, Achilles & ankle cool down

Bend both knees and stretch your heels downwards – don’t let your knee track inward – hold 30-60 secs, or 10-20 breaths.

Single Straight Leg – hamstring cool down

Keeping knee bent, straighten the other leg and focus on lengthening from your buttock to your heel – hold 30-60 secs, or 10-20 breaths.

2 thoughts on “Downward Facing Dog Pose – a full body stretch for every athlete

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