Some studies say you don’t need to bother and others fight against that by showing how stretches for running improve your stride and prevent injuries. So what should you do?
Stretching is an important part of any runner’s routine and can help improve performance, reduce the risk of injury, and improve overall flexibility. And it’s widely believed that runners should focus on stretching all muscle groups in the legs, hips, and lower back (particularly with dynamic stretches before running).
However, as mentioned above, the effectiveness of stretching before and after a run is still up for debate, as different studies have produced contradictory findings.
Different people have different ideas about stretching, depending on their coach and how they train. As a runner, it is best to figure out what works best for your body and when.
If that sounds like you, and you’re looking for the best overall stretches for runners, then this article is perfect for you. Read on to learn everything you need about stretches for runners.
Benefits of Stretching for Runners
Stretching can be beneficial for runners in more than one way. It’s can help improve flexibility and prevent stiffness and pain. Gently stretching after a run can also help reduce soreness and tight muscles.
With the jury out on it, here’s what I believe as a running coach about stretching, it can be a useful part of your routine to
- Prevent loss of range of motion
- Improve 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 explaining 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 a cooldown and muscles then tightening once you finished.
Two Main Types of Stretches
When it comes to stretching for runners, there are a few different types of stretches that can be beneficial. Let’s look at the two most important kinds for runners;
Static stretching is the most common type of stretch for runners and consists of moving a joint or muscle as far as possible and holding it there for an extended period of time.
Examples of static stretches include calf stretches, iliotibial band stretches, quadriceps stretches, hip flexor stretches, and gluteal stretches. It’s important to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds in order to get the full benefit. These stretches are great after a run.
Read my guide on post-run stretches to learn more.
Dynamic stretching is another common type of stretch. The goal of dynamic stretching is to stretch your muscles and joints for a set number of reps by moving through a range of motion with control.
Examples of dynamic stretches include leg swings, knee circles, and walking lunges. Dynamic stretching is great for warming up the muscles before a run and can help improve your stride length and running efficiency.
Read my guide on dynamic stretches to learn more.
What Should the Best Stretches for Runners Focus On?
The best stretches for runners are going to focus on the areas that will likely bring us the most injuries:
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 when 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.
9 Best Stretches for Runners Overall
These running stretches are part of my evening routine which helps me to unwind or are what I do after I finish a strength training session to keep listening to podcasts I haven’t finished. These especially need to be in your daily routine if you are experiencing lower back pain while running.
1. Calf Stretch
The calf stretch is a great way to target the muscles in your lower leg and help improve flexibility.
To perform this stretch, stand facing a wall with one foot forward and the other back. Place your hands on the wall for support and lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in your calf muscle.
Hold this position for 30 seconds before switching legs. You can also do this stretch while seated.
2. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
The hip flexor stretch is a great way to target the muscles in your hips and help improve flexibility. To perform this stretch, start in a kneeling position on both of your knees. Step your left knee forward and place your left foot flat on the mat in front of you.
Straighten your upper body and extend your right leg behind you to deepen the stretch. Gently lean forward into the stretch. Hold for a minimum of 30 seconds.
For a more advanced version, reach behind and grab your right ankle. Release the stretch by leaning back and then switch to your left knee.
3. Forward Fold IT Band Stretch
This is a great one to add to your stretching routine to stretch your IT band properly.
To perform this stretch, start by standing. Then cross your right foot over your left foot. You’ll notice that your feet are not touching with your toes in line.
Next, hinge at your hips and forward fold towards the floor. While doing this, engage your abdominal muscles by bringing your belly button in towards the spine. This will also reduce the pull in the low back.
Try to keep your legs as straight as possible, and reach your fingers towards the floor. If you can’t touch all the way, that’s absolutely okay.
Stay here for a minimum of 30 seconds, and then switch sides.
4. Cobbler’s Pose
This is a great yoga-based stretching exercise that opens up your hips and groin.
To perform this stretch, begin seated with your legs stretched out straight in front of you. Then bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to fall out to either side.
Draw your feet in as close to your body as possible and press the outer edges of your feet together. Wrap your hands around your toes and look forward. Now bend forward till it’s comfortable and hold this position for at least 30 seconds.
5. Supine Hamstring Stretch
The supine hamstring stretch is a great way to target the muscles in your hamstrings and help improve flexibility. To perform this stretch, lie on your back with one leg bent and the other straight.
Place your hands behind your thigh and pull it towards you as you left your leg with your feet flexed. Pull it until you feel a stretch in your hamstring. Hold this position for 30 seconds before switching legs.
6. Quadriceps Stretch
The quad stretch is a great way to target your quadriceps and give them a good stretch.
To perform this stretch, stand with one foot forward and the other back. Bend your front knee and grab your ankle with your hand.
Pull your heel up towards your glutes until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold this position for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
Here’s a video of these static stretches for runners to help.
7. Butt Kicks
This is a great dynamic warm up move that targets your quads, hip flexors, and hamstrings simultaneously.
To perform this stretch, start jogging in place and as you jog bring each heel up towards your buttocks. Start slowly and it’ll warm up your hamstrings.
Keep doing it for up to 30 seconds and then take a 15-second break and repeat again.
8. Heel Lifts
Heel lifts are a great way to promote ankle mobility and prevent injuries and strains overall.
To perform this stretch, start by standing with the back straight. Then slowly rise up onto the balls of your feel. Make sure you’re not locking your knees while doing this.
Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and then lower the heels back down to the floor. Repeat for 3-4 reps.
9. Leg Swings
A go to dynamic stretch that will get the blood flowing and help with pain and stiffness.
To perform this stretch, stand upright with a wall or pole to one side of your body. Lift the leg on the opposite side and start swinging it up in front of you and then back behind you.
Repeat this motion back and forth like a pendulum swing while keeping your core engaged. Perform 10-15 leg swings and then switch legs.
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.
This can get confusing because we call them dynamic stretches. So think of it as a dynamic warm up, never a long hold stretch.
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
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I don’t cool down as much or as often as I should whether it’s after running or strength training. I do it but probably could do more.
I always walk but now I WILL STRETCH TOO! I like the idea of picking 2 stretches that way it would only take about 5 minutes. And who doesn’t have 5 minutes for your own well being 🙋
that’s the best way to think of it!!