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Stretching for Running

Mar 17 2021
6 min read
woman doing standing lunge stretch while the sun sets behind her over dirt road

There’s nothing like completing a great run. It’s energizing, challenging, and burns calories in a big way.

Taking care of your body, including how you treat it before and after each run, is essential in making sure you feel your best every time you hit the pavement (or hop on the treadmill).

Stretching feels good, plain and simple. But the types of stretches and activities you do pre- and post-run are what really make a difference in how you feel deep into your workout and long after you’ve finished.

Consider these recommendations to help you prepare and recover from a short- or long-distance run:

Running Warm-Up Moves

Before you really get into your stride, lubricate your joints with some dynamic (moving) exercises during a five- to 10-minute warm-up jog (mimicking the movement you’ll be doing in your actual workout helps muscles get ready). Jog for one minute and perform one of the following movements. Then, jog for another minute and perform a different movement, and so on.

Side-to-Side Leg Swings
Stand in place and lift one foot so your leg is raised a couple feet off the ground in front of you. Then swing that leg side-to-side 10 to 15 times, loosening up the hips. Switch legs.

Skipping
Maybe you haven’t skipped since grade school, but doing so helps prep your feet, ankles and calves for the run ahead. Try increasing the height of each skip as you go, aiming for 25 to 50 meters.

Jogging in Place with High Knees
Raising your knees up to chest height is a great way to warm up your entire lower body, including your glutes and especially the muscles in your lower back that work hard to support your upper body while you run. Aim to raise each knee 10 times.

Jogging in Place with Butt Kicks
This swift backswing of the lower part of your leg (try to lightly tap your glutes with your heels) helps loosen your quad muscles. Aim for 10 kicks with each leg. If this feels too easy, try doing five butt kicks, five high knees (see above), then repeat.

Arm Swings
Even though most of the work your body’s doing while you run is from the waist down, your upper body is still engaged – especially as you swing your arms with each step. During your warmup, stand in place, put your arms out to your sides at chest height and swing them across the front of your body, crossing them. Then return them back out to your sides. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Running Cool-Down Stretches

While your muscles are warm and pliable, spend a few minutes extending those in your lower back, legs and feet. Holding these stretches not only helps those muscles remain limber and less prone to pain but also gives your body time to recover, normalizing your breathing and heart rate. Give the following a try after your next run:

Quad Stretch
Stand up straight with your legs together. Bend your right knee and raise your right foot up behind you, grasping the top of your foot with your right hand. Hold your foot so your heel is touching your right buttock (or is close to it), keeping your knees together throughout the stretch. If you’re having trouble balancing, hold onto the back of a chair, a tree or other support (avoid anything that requires you to reach too low). Engage your abdominals and tighten your glutes to increase the stretch. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and then release your grip slowly, lowering your foot to the floor. Repeat on the other side.

Calf and Foot Extension
Stand a few inches from a wall with your right leg bent at a 45-degree angle and your left leg extended straight behind you, heel down, so you’re in a lunge position. Place your palms flat against the wall at shoulder height. Move your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your left calf. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side. You should feel the stretch in your calf extend through your foot.

Spinal Twist
Start by lying flat on your back with both knees bent. Lower both knees toward your right side until they touch the floor and your hips are stacked. Place your right hand on your top leg and apply light pressure to deepen the stretch and hold for 30 seconds. Return to center and repeat on the opposite side. Repeat once more on each side.

These two yoga poses are also great post-run stretches:

Staff Pose
Sit tall on the ground with your legs extended straight out in front of you, feet flexed and hands at your sides. Keeping your hands on the ground beside your legs, slowly inch your fingertips toward your pinky toes. Aim to keep your legs straight, but if you need to bend your knees slightly, do so. Gaze down toward your legs to stretch your neck.

Breathe deeply and continue reaching your fingers toward your toes, lowering your chest toward your thighs with a flat back. Grasp your ankles or feet and hold here for 30 seconds. Slowly rise back up and repeat.

Gentle Cobra
Lie face-down on your mat or rug, or on grass if you’re outdoors, legs extended straight and the tops of your feet touching the ground. Bend your elbows and place your palms flat on the ground against your body near the bottom of your ribcage. Lower your chin slightly toward your chest and tuck your elbows into your sides as you inhale deeply and raise your collarbone off the ground, pressing through your palms. Hold for a few moments and then exhale as you lower your forehead to the ground. Repeat several times, rising higher if it feels comfortable.