Essential Stretches for Runners

 Stretching is an essential part of almost every workout — especially running. Even going on a short jog works your muscles, and many doctors recommend stretching both before and after exercise.

Because exercise can shorten your musclesTrusted Source, skipping your post-activity stretch can decrease your mobility over time. Stretching keeps the muscles in the body flexible, so that they can stay at their fullest range of motion.

Most doctors also recommend that you warm up before stretching and running. Muscles respond better to the stress the body puts on them when they’ve been warmed up.

Warming up can be as simple as walking for 5 to 10 minutes, just enough to get the blood flowing through the body.

Stretching is typically divided into two different types: static and dynamic.

Static stretching involves moving a joint or muscle as far as you can and then holding it there for a period of time. For example:

  • Reaching down to touch your toes, and once you’ve gone as far done as you can, holding that position for a set duration.

Dynamic stretching involves moving your joints or muscles in specific motions for a set amount of reps. For example:

  • Swinging each of your legs back and forth 10 to 15 times before a run.

There’s been a bit of back and forth in the fitness and research community regarding which type of stretching is better to do pre-workout. But the general consensus seems to be that dynamic stretching is most helpful pre-run, and static stretching is most helpful post-run.

Below are 10 crucial muscle areas for runners, and some post-run stretches that help keep them healthy. If you’re looking for a pre-workout stretching regime, we’ve got a helpful one here.

Note: Because there are so many different kinds of static stretches out there, if one of these examples doesn’t work for you, or if you’ve found other static stretches that provide better support, feel free to use those.

Often referred to as your quads, your quadriceps femoris muscles covers most of the front and sides of your thighs. Stretching your quadriceps is extra important if you’re running up or down hills.

To stretch them:

  1. Stand upright and pull your leg behind you with the corresponding hand.
  2. Tuck your pelvis and pull your shin toward your thigh.
  3. Keep your knee pointing downward as you do this stretch to protect your knee joint.
  4. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then switch sides.

You can also use a chair to balance yourself. This stretch should be felt in the front of your thigh, and from your hip down to your knee.

Your hamstrings make up the back part of your thigh, stretching from the hip to the knee. While this stretch predominantly helps with your hamstrings, it’s also beneficial for your adductors.

For this stretch:

  1. Sit on the ground and extend your left leg.
  2. Move your right foot toward your inner thigh, so that it touches the top part of your left leg, if possible.
  3. Lean forward, bending but not rounding your back and waist toward the left foot as if reaching for your toes.
  4. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat with the other leg.

You should feel it in the back of your leg, from your knees to your buttocks.

Your calf muscles on the back of your lower legs are a key area to pay attention to after a run. Poor calf stretching can make soreness and injury more likely.

To stretch your calf muscles:

  1. Stand with your right foot behind your left.
  2. Bend your left leg forward while keeping your right leg straight.
  3. Be sure not to bend the right knee and to keep your right foot firmly on the ground, pointing straight ahead.
  4. Straighten your back and hold the pose for at least 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat with the other leg.
  6. For a modification, or if you need help with balance, put your hands up against a wall and push into it.

You should feel this stretch anywhere from the back of your knee down to your ankle.

While this stretch technically lengthens your tensor fascia latae (an important muscle in your hip), it’s routinely called the iliotibial (IT) band stretch because it can also help with your body’s iliotibial band, which runs on the outside of your thigh between your hip and shin.

Runners who don’t quite have proper training techniques, and long-distance runners, can typically injure this area.

To do this stretch:

  1. Stand near a wall or something you can use to balance yourself.
  2. Cross your left ankle behind your right ankle.
  3. While balancing with your right arm, stretch your left arm over your head.
  4. Reach up and over with your torso and arm, stretching toward your right side.
  5. Hold for at least 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.

When your left ankle is crossed behind your right ankle, and you’re leaning toward the right, you’ll feel the stretch in your left leg.

The psoas (pronounced “so-az”) muscle is on the front of your spine and connects the lower back to the upper thigh.

To stretch this muscle:

  1. Kneel with your right leg in front and both knees at 90 degrees.
  2. Squeeze your glutes, tilt your pelvis under, and shift your hips forward until you feel a stretch.
  3. Raise your left arm over your head, gently stretching toward your right.
  4. As you’re stretching to the right, slightly open your torso to the left.

You should feel the stretch on the front of your hip on your back leg.

This stretch lengthens the piriformis, a deep muscle that runs from your sacrum to your thigh bone.

It also stretches the gluteal muscles, which play a vital role for runnersTrusted Source. Strengthening and stretching your gluteal muscles is important for improving your running performance.

To do this stretch:

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Cross your right ankle over your left knee.
  3. Grab behind your left knee and bring your leg toward your chest.
  4. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then switch sides.

You should feel the stretch in the back of your thigh and buttocks.

The adductor muscles are a group of muscles that are located in the inner thighs and run from your pelvis to your thigh, and in some cases, all the way to your knee.

To stretch the adductor muscles:

  1. Stand with your feet spread apart in a wide stance.
  2. Without moving your left leg, lean to the right and bend your right knee until you feel a stretch.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

You should feel a stretch in your inner thigh.

Harder running surfaces, like sidewalks, can place additional stress on the spine and cause tightness and pain.

To stretch your entire spine:

  1. Lie on your back with your arms stretched out to the side.
  2. Bend your right knee in toward your chest.
  3. Gently let your right knee fall towards the left, keeping your right arm and shoulder blade on the ground. Stop when you feel a stretch.

You should feel a stretch in your spine.

The lower back area is another part of the body that runners should be aware of. To stretch your lower back:

  1. Lie on your back.
  2. Grab both of your knees and pull them up to your chest until you feel a stretch.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds.
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