Running stretches have become a topic of debate in recent years. Some studies saying you don’t need to bother and others fighting against that by showing how they can improve your stride and prevent injuries.
With the jury out on it, here’s what I believe as a running coach about stretching:
- Preventing loss of range of motion
- Improving range of motion after an injury
- If it feels good, make time for it (I love how I feel after 10 minutes on the floor in the evening)
- It’s a time to force runners to slow down
- We know that tight hips mean you can’t take a full stride
- We know that tightness in your IT Band could pull on your knee causing pain
- We know that tight calves can create issues in your knees, ankles and Achilles
Alex Hutchenson has done a thorough job of why you don’t need to stretch…though he admits, he still does because it feels good.
Anecdotally, I’ve just seen so many runners that we coach reduce or recover from hip and knee injuries from incorporating it that I still think stretching and more importantly mobility exercises are worth it.
Maintaining Flexibility is Massively Important As We Age
While researching things that runners over 40, ok really they were mostly 70+ did to keep going strong when most would say they should be home knitting, it turns out flexibility was HUGE.
After every workout, they spent some time stretching and most swore by it for helping them to continue going injury free for so many years.
This makes sense because as we age we do lose flexibility and even prior to that we spend so much time in sedentary positions that our muscles become tight, which impacts our entire run.
Tell me you haven’t had the experience of finishing a run and then hopping in your car to drive home. You start to get out of the car and feel like you’ve aged 30 years during the drive! That’s the lack of stretching once you finished.
While I list this as post run, the truth is I don’t usually do them immediately after a run.
These running stretches part of my evening routine which helps me to unwind or what I do after I finish a strength training session to keep listening to podcast I haven’t finished.
The best stretches for runners are going to focus on the areas that will likely bring us the most injuries:
- Tight hips
- Tight calves
- Tight IT Band
Another area that is often OVERLOOKED is the inner thigh. As with the other areas, when tight it can pull the knee out of alignment.
After that if you have a few minutes pick out 2-3 stretches and get on it. But do plan to spend some time later in the day doing a little more stretching on especially tight areas and then go on about your day. Now is the time where you can do those static stretches which are forbidden prior to a run.
At this point, studies show you need to hold the stretch for 1 minute minimum to get the maximum impact! So that’s why I graciously said to just pick a couple to do each day because I know you won’t spend 10 minutes here.
The reason static stretches are beneficial after a run (never before) is because it helps the muscle to release the tension created during the run and continue to improve circulation. That circulation is what’s carrying all the nutrient rich blood to your muscles to jump start the repair process.
Plus, we know that tight muscles cause things to pull out of alignment and then our form gets all wonky and then we have pain and then well we aren’t running. So…ya…just stretch for a minute will ya?
A few running stretches to consider:
- Calf stretch
- Hip flexor stretch – I like this version better because it creates a resistance stretch which provides strength too
- Forward fold with legs crossed (to hit the IT band)
- Cobbler’s pose (seated with feet together and knees out) — keep your back straight as you lean over
- Supine hamstring stretch – keep your hips on the floor
- Quad stretch – I actually prefer to do this laying on the floor for better alignment
Is it good to stretch before you run?
No. Stop it. Don’t do it.
We’ve seen studies show that static stretching before a run can actually lead to injuries and reduce your speed. Instead, we want you to spend your time on a proper warm up which will activate your glutes, core and get the body prepped to work hard.
What stretches should a beginning runner do?
Beginner, advanced, older, younger, stretches are the same for all of us. The only exception is when you have an injury and need to not overextend a certain muscle group.
The above stretches are a great place to start and then you can move on to the more advanced things mentioned below like mobility or yes YOGA for runners.
Additional Ways to Improve Recovery:
Since we know stretching isn’t the be all end all, what else should you be doing??
- Mobility workouts for runners – definitely more worth your time than stretching for performance benefits
- Hip extension exercises
- Yoga for runners
- Guide to foam rolling for runners
Do you have favorite running stretches?
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