If you’re a runner, you know you should be stretching. However, I’d be willing to bet the majority of runners aren’t great at making time to warm up before a run or stretching afterwards. I used to be one of these runners too, but after constant running injuries, I made a commitment to make warming up and cooling down a priority. Back in the good ol’ days, I could jump out of bed and run without much of a warm up, but now that I’m in my late-thirties, it’s not quite that easy.
So why should you stretch after a run? Stretching helps lengthen your muscles, improve flexibility and keep range of motion, all of which helps prevent injuries. However, muscles respond so much better to stretching when they’re warm. Do NOT stretch to try cold muscles, and yes, that means that you shouldn’t hold static stretches before a run. Instead, do a dynamic warm-up before a run and save stretching for after a run. Or, if you really like to stretch before your start your speed work, do 10 minutes of easy easy running first. Then stretch. Then hit it!
There are lots of stretches that are beneficial for runners specifically, so that’s what I’m sharing today in this post. Let’s jump in.
Best Stretches For Runners
Before I dive into each stretch I wanted to mention that if you have any concerns about these stretches, seek medical advice. While these stretches, in general, are great for runners, they may not be great for you if you are struggling with injuries.
Your quadriceps are one of your largest muscles and are used to their max while running. Most runners develop “runner’s quads” in their training due to how hard the quads work. To stretch your quad, stand on one foot and lift the other leg at the knee, gently bringing your ankle towards your glute. Use one hand to hold your foot to your glute (or as close as you can get it!) and the other hand to stabilize. Hold for at least 20 seconds and switch to your left side.
You can also do this stretch lying face down on the floor. Press your hips into the floor to feel the stretch through the front of your thigh. I find the stretch is even more effective for me when I lie down to do it. And it’s certainly more relaxing.
Kneeling hip flexor stretch
To perform this stretch, kneel on a mat, and then extend one leg forward into a lunge, with the other knee still on the mat. Instead of standing into a lunge, gently lean forward into the leg that’s propped up until you feel the stretch in your hip flexors. Try not to bend over, but rather stay upright, thinking of keeping your head high. Releasing hip flexor tension can also help relieve back pain since many runners experience back pain due to overcompensation by their back since their hips are too tight.
Another muscle group to focus on are your hamstrings. The easiest way to stretch them is by standing with your feet flat on the floor and reaching down to touch your toes while keeping a flat back. You’ll be really surprised how difficult it is to touch your toes if you’re also keeping your back flat, and you’re sure to feel the stretch behind your quads. For a deeper stretch, cross one foot over the other and repeat. You’ll feel it in the hamstring of your leg that’s not crossed over the other. Make sure to stretch both sides.
You can also do this while seated. I prefer to do it one leg at a time, bending the opposite foot in towards my inner thigh.
Standing glute stretch
Those glutes get SO tight as a runner. The best stretch (it’s so satisfying) for this is a standing glute stretch. Standing with your feet hip-width apart, bend one knee and bring that leg and cross it over your other leg, creating a “4” shape. Sit down into the stretch and hold it. You’ll feel it immediately.
Since your dominant leg will be more stable than your non dominant side, make sure to switch your right and left knee equally! Again, you can do this lying down as well! you’ll cross your ankle over the opposite bent knee, reach through the space formed and gently bring your legs towards you while keeping your upper body on the floor.
You can also do this same stretch laying down, which is how I typically do it!
Your calves are another muscle group to focus on. My favorite way to stretch my calves after a run is by using a stair step and hanging my heel of the edge. With my leg extended, I lean forward so my weight is in my toes, while letting my heel drop below the step. Do one leg at a time.
I do this all throughout my day after running if I’m walking up the stairs. It feels SO good. Focus on feeling the stretch for at least 15 seconds.
Sitting on the ground, bring your feet together (touching foot to foot) in front of you. You should look like you’re about to sit criss-cross but feet are together, not crossed under your shins. Your knees will not naturally lay flat on the ground, so while sitting, use your hands and arms to gently press your knees toward toward the ground while trying to keep your back long and flat. This stretches in the inside of your thighs. This is one of our deeper stretches and for many men, it will be difficult to hold this position. That’s a sign you should keep doing it!
Iliotibial Band Stretch
Your iliotibial band is referred to as your “IT band”. The easiest way to stretch your IT band is to stand with your feet crossed over one another and lean your core to one side and hold. It won’t look like a hard stretch, but it’s doing a lot of good for your body. Make sure to switch your feet and lean to the other side too.
Upper Body Stretches
Make sure not to forget your upper body! While I’d pick my hips and legs if I only had a few minutes to stretch, ideally you’d want to leave time for your upper body as well. I stretch my arms and shoulders by crossing each arm over my chest and holding with the other arm. Since you run with your arms AND your legs, don’t neglect your upper body when it comes to stretching.
No matter which stretches you do, just making time and an effort to stretch is great. Your body will thank you and it will result in much better (pain free) runs. I’d love to hear what your go-to stretches are! Leave a comment below for others to read! To see videos of my warm-up routine, post-run stretching and/or foam rolling, join my online running course.
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