If there’s one thing you might know about my coaching philosophy, it’s that the pre-run stretches are a non-negotiable. I’m pretty flexible about how we do a lot of other things, but you simply cannot skip the warm up and expect to run your best or remain injury free.
I’m not talking about a boring static standing quad stretch or even a lengthy routine.
Pre-run stretching, plus smart cross training is why I am able to stay injury-free year after year, despite the amount of running and other activity I do. They are truly an important part of any fitness regimen.
“But I don’t have time.” I know you’re busy. I’ve heard it before from nearly every athlete we’ve coached in the last decade.
I get it, it can be difficult to get our runs in as it is, but I promise taking a few minutes to properly warm up with some pre-run stretches will pay dividends for your running and how you feel overall during and after your runs.
Our runners are consistently amazed at the difference in their performance and reduction injuries from a proper running warm up.
Whether you’re heading out for a regular weekly training run, hitting the trails, or standing in the corral at the starting line, I have some easy and quick dynamic pre-run stretches that you can add to your routine to ensure you have a great run and stay healthy!
Why Stretch Before a Run?
We all know we should stretch after our runs and workouts. But before? Really?
Of course! But I’m not suggesting we do the same as post-run stretches.
Static stretching has its place, but before a run our goal is to prime our body for what we’re about to ask it to do.
Pre-run stretches MUST BE DYNAMIC. No long holds of any stretch, we don’t want to lengthen the muscles or reduce stability.
Instead, dynamic stretching movements allow us to move through our body’s range of motion, lubricate joints like our hips, knees, and ankles, and get our muscles warmed up and ready to perform.
A pre-run stretching routine offers a lot of benefits. Some of these include:
- Increasing blood flow to the muscles we’ll be using
- Gently elevating our heart rate and body temperature
- Waking up muscle groups like those in our core that help with balance and coordination
- Improving flexibility
- Allowing us time to mentally get in the mindset to run
I don’t know about you, but that last one can be a challenge sometimes, especially on days where it’s uncomfortably warm or cold or windy and rainy.
Runners know running is both a mental and physical sport, so making sure both our bodies and mind are ready to roll can make all the difference once we’ve hit the road or trail.
15 Best Pre-Run Stretches
When you head out for your next run, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to warm-up using some dynamic pre-run stretches. There are a number of stretches detailed below. You don’t have to do all of them every time. That would take awhile and I know we’re all often in a time crunch as it is.
My suggestion is to pick a few each time that work for your given circumstances. This may make it easier to make it a habit since you’ll have a variety of options in your toolbox.
With doing 8-10 reps or 20-30 seconds of a few chosen exercises, then a short walk and light jog, your pre-run stretching routine doesn’t have to take more than 10 minutes.
I give you bonus points for throwing in some running form drills, butt kicks and high knees on speed work days!
You’ll be doing yourself a world of good in just a short period of time.
Pre-Run Stretches For When You Have Plenty of Space
The following stretches are perfect for when you’re at home, can get on the ground, and/or have some space to move.
Moves are described below and shown in videos as well to give you a quick visual reference.
1. Lunge Matrix
This set is great because it gets you moving in multiple planes of motion. It serves to warm up your legs, gets your core involved to help keep your balance, and is great for anyone with IT Band issues. Each lunge of the matrix should be performed on the right side and left side.
- Start with a side lunge on the right and the left, then a forward lunge on each leg.
- Next, step back on an angle, leaving the planted foot pointed forward.
- This is followed by a crossover lunge to the front on each side with your stepping foot pointing forward.
- Finish with another crossover lunge on each side but where your stepping foot is pointed toward the angle you’re moving.
If you’re short on time, try simply doing some walking lunges! They are great for the hip flexors and waking up the glutes.
2. Walk-Out to Plank
This move focuses on our hip and hamstring mobility and also activates our core.
- Start standing upright, slowly bend forward toward your toes.
- Walk your hands out until you’re in a plank.
- Holding the plank position, lift one arm out in front at a time.
- Walk your hands back to your feet feeling a nice hamstring stretch.
- Roll up slowly and reach skyward.
3. Downward Dog to Lunge with Rotation
This is a great full-body move that gets our upper bodies, calves and hips involved.
- From a downward dog position with your feet shoulder-width apart and where you should feel a nice calf stretch
- Step forward with the right foot into a lunge with your hands on the ground.
- Raise your right arm to the ceiling while keeping your left arm on the ground 2 or 3 times to open your chest.
- Step back into downward dog and repeat with the left leg stepping forward.
4. Skip Swings
This is another full body move that gets you moving, although it can be done standing in place.
While skipping and driving your knees up to a nice 90-degree angle, swing your arms out to the side to get a nice stretch across the chest.
This helps loosen the arms and chest up to help with posture during your run.
5. Toy Soldiers
This is a nice option in place of the standard leg swings. These target your hamstrings and can be done standing in place or while walking forward.
- Standing up straight with arms overhead
- Swing one straight leg forward and up while reaching toward it with the opposite arm.
- Alternate legs for several reps.
Pre-Run Stretches For Race Day
The following stretches are great for when you can’t get on the ground at a trailhead or are standing in a crowded corral before the start of a race.
They will get your body ready nonetheless while keeping you out of the dirt or from annoying your fellow runners. Plus, you can always do some of the other pre-run stretches that take up more space before you head into the corral.
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6. Knees to Chest
This is a great move to loosen up the hips and glutes.
- Drive your right knee upwards, grab with your hands and pull it a little further toward your chest.
- Repeat with the left knee and continue alternating.
7. Heel Taps
This is going to work the hips!
- Bend your right knee and lift your right foot up with the inside of your foot leading the way and tap with your left hand.
- Repeat with the left foot and go back and forth for a few reps like you’re trying to juggle a soccer ball
But wait, there’s more! You basically want to invert the move taking your feet out to the side tapping the outside of your foot with the arm on the same side.
8. Ankle Rolls
Simple and straightforward! Leaving the ball of your foot on the ground, rotate your right ankle a few times in each direction and repeat with your left ankle.
9. Hip Rotations
This is a move with a small range of motion, but gets your hips and pelvis involved.
- With your legs together and hands on your hips, move your hips in a circle to the right and reverse to the left.
- Your knees should be soft and your upper body movement should be minimal.
10. Standing IT Band Stretch
This is a stretch you’ll feel all down the side of your body. It’s important that you don’t hold this stretch, but gently move into and out of it.
- With your right arm stretched straight up, cross the right leg over the left and slowly stick your right hip out to the side until you feel a nice stretch from your upper body down the side of your right leg.
- Gently move back to neutral and repeat on the left side.
Pre-Run Core Activation Moves
The following movements focus on getting the hips, glutes and abs primed and ready to work. Some of these do require you to have some space or to get on the ground.
11. Cross Unders
Getting your core engaged means better form throughout the run. Meanwhile, we’re also loosening up the hips.
- Get in to a straight arm plank position.
- Cross a straight leg under the other and drop the hip of the straight leg toward the ground and lift back up before returning to the plank position. This move will engage the hip, core, and alert you to any tight areas you may have.
See a video of the cross under and hurdle step.
12. Glute Press
This move may look similar to being in a pigeon pose, but without the focus on the glute activation in the back leg. It’s going to be a small movement, really focused on squeezing the glute.
- With one knee bent under you, stretch the other leg out behind you and lean forward onto your elbows.
- Flex the glute of the outstretched leg, not your quad, to straighten the back knee then release.
- Repeat a few times before switching sides.
13. Hurdle Steps
Despite the name, there is no jumping involved in this move.
For this one, imagine there’s a hurdle perpendicular in front of you. Stepping sideways, swing each leg up and over the imaginary hurdle and then reverse in the opposite direction.
14. Hip Drops
This move you might know as a Buddha or deep squat. But we’re turning it in to a mobility movement, but flowing through.
- From a standing position with your feet hip-width apart, drop into a deep squat.
- Lean forward to touch your toes.
- Then lift your hips to the sky feeling a stretch in the back of your legs and then roll up.
- You may find your range of motion increases in this one as you perform more reps.
15. Glute Bridge
You can never go wrong with any variation of a glute bridge prior to your run.
My personal favorite is to do a glute bridge march.
- Lying on your back with arms extended by the sides, finger tips touching heels.
- Raise hips to the ceiling.
- Alternate raising and lowering legs, without letting the hips drop.
While this is not an all-encompassing list, I hope it provides you some options to create a routine and habit before you head out on your runs. I promise you will notice a difference before, during, and after your runs if you give yourself an extra few minutes to do some pre-run stretches.
Looking for more ways to prep and run your best?
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