Looking for the best stretches for runners?
Then you have come to the right place.
Running is a fantastic cardiovascular exercise.
I love to run, and it’s great knowing that it’s good for me too.
But there’s a catch. (Isn’t there always a catch?)
This high impact sport also puts a lot of stress on your body, especially on the lower limbs and joints.
The build-up of this stress can hinder flexibility and mobility in the lower body, which can in turn limit performance and increase your injury risk.
You don’t want that, and I don’t want it for you.
The Road to Trouble
With every stride you take, your lower limbs are forced to flex and extend over and over to propel you down the road.
As you log more and more miles, your overworked muscles and tendons develop scar tissue, tension, and imbalances, compromising your running performance and increasing the risks of common overuse injuries such as Achilles tendonitis and IT Band Syndrome.
What’s the Takeaway?
Stretching your muscles after a run can help you counteract the high impact effects of running, as well as help you release much of the tension and tightness resulting from hitting the pavement.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that post-run stretching can help you prevent post-workout soreness and stiffness, although there is not scientific study backing up my claim.
It’s been just my experience, so try it and see if it’s gonna work for you.
Also, stretching helps you become more flexible (duh) and help you ward off many of the mobility issues that many runners have.
In other words, stretching will make your running more efficient and enjoyable—both short, and long term.
The Fallacy of Pre-Workout Static Stretching
Plenty of research has looked into the effects of pre-training static stretching and found a negative rather than positive impact on endurance, strength, and explosive performance, especially when the stretch is held for longer than 30 seconds—your classic high school static stretching.
More research has also revealed that pre-workout stretching has little to no impact on injury prevention.
Check the research here.
How to Stretch
When you should be stretching is after a run, when your muscles are warm, and the risk of tearing a muscle and injury is low.
Here’s how to make the most out of it:
Stretch in a focused and slow manner, holding each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
Avoid bouncing or making jerking motion while stretching.
This is a common mistake that could result in a pulled or pulled muscle.
Focus on your breathing.
Breathe out to further release into the stretch, letting go of any tension in the muscle.
Stretch gradually to the point of discomfort, but not one bit beyond the pain zone.
What to Stretch?
Don’t you know which muscles you need to stretch?
Here they are:
- The hamstrings—the muscles located on the back of your thighs.
- The quadriceps—the muscles at the front of your thighs.
- The hip and the muscles around it, such as the gluteals, the lateral rotator, the adductors group, and the iliopsoas.
- The calf muscles.
- The upper body and lower back, too. That includes your arms, neck, chest, and upper back muscles.
The Best Stretches For Runners
Without further ado, here’s a list of my favorite runners-friendly stretches.
Targeted Muscle: The Hamstrings
The hamstrings are prone to injury, especially among runners.
Tight hamstrings can lead to pulled muscles and lower back problems.
They can also hinder range of motion, which limits running efficiency.
Here are two runner’s stretches to help you improve your hamstring’s flexibility and mobility.
1: Standing Single Leg Hamstring
Stand with your feet hip-distance apart.
Bend your right knee slightly and extend your left leg in front of you, pointing your toes up.
Holding this position, lower your upper body towards your knee and reach your hands toward your left foot’s toes as far as you can.
Hold this position for 30 seconds, then switch to the other side.
2: The Lying Hamstring Stretch
Lie flat on your back with your legs extended and your back straight.
Keeping your left leg extended on the floor, pull your right knee to your chest.
Put your hands behind your right knee and slowly straighten the leg towards the ceiling, keeping both hips on the floor.
Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Targeted Muscle: The Calves
The calves are runner’s most overworked muscles, and inflexible calves set the stage for strains, shin splints and plantar fasciitis.
Boosting this muscle’s flexibility and mobility can also improve your stride length and cadence.
3: The Runner’s Calf Stretch
Stand facing a wall.
Then place both arms on the wall with your arms extended and your back straight.
Step your right leg backward while keeping your heel planted to the ground and your leg extended without bending your knee.
To stretch the calf, lean forward slightly towards the wall while actively pressing your back heel into the ground until you feel a good stretch in the muscle.
Breathe deeply and hold for 30 seconds or more, then switch sides.
Targeted Muscle: The Quadriceps
Flexible quadriceps muscles are the key to stronger knee lift and speed, while tight quads are one of the main causes of the dreaded “runner’s knee.
4. The Standing Quadriceps Stretch
Start by standing with your legs hip distance apart.
Stand tall, while holding your right foot behind your butt, with your knee pointing to floor.
If you need it, grab a chair for balance.
Keep your thighs lined up and your core engaged throughout the stretch, holding for no more than 30 seconds.
Repeat with the left leg.
Targeted Muscles: The Hip Flexors
For most runners, the hips are the weakest link.
Ignoring them can set the stage for runner’s knee, Iliotibial Band Syndrome, lower back pain and other trouble.
It’s happened to me.
In fact, I believe that tight hip flexors are the reason I suffered from knee problems for so many years.
5. The Hip Flexors Lunge Stretch
Begin in a kneeling position and lunge forward with your right leg, keeping your left knee pressed to the floor.
Extend your hips forward until you feel a stretch down the front of your left leg around your hips.
Repeat on the opposite side.
6: The Pigeon
This is one of my favorite yoga poses for runners.
It targets the hip flexors and the lower back.
Assume table position (on your hands and knees with a flat back).
Bend your right knee and bring it forward to a comfortable position between your hands
Take your left leg and stretch it fully behind you
Exhale and bend down to the ground.
Make sure you’re resting your torso on your leg and rest your head on the floor.
Targeted Muscles: The Lower Back Muscles
This is another major muscle group you need to stretch regularly to release running stress, improve mobility in the lower body, and prevent aches and pains.
7. The Lower Back Knee Crossover Stretch
Lie on your back with your legs extended and your back straight.
Bend your right leg and grab your right foot.
Keeping your left shoulder on the floor, grab the outside of your knee with your left hand and guide it across your body and towards the ground on your left side.
Try to move your knee closer to the ground while keeping both shoulders in contact with the floor.
Go back to starting position and repeat the same stretch on the other side.
You can end this runners’ stretch routine by doing Shavasana.
Lay there on your back, with your arms and legs spread at about 45 degrees and breathe deeply.
It’s good for you!
8. Hip Flexors & Psoas Stretch
Muscle targeted: The hip flexors and the Psoas
Start off by getting into a forward lunge position, then place your hands on your lead knee.
Next, lower your left knee to the ground, then to stretch, press down with your hands and extend the hips forward until you start feeling a stretch in front of your thigh, groin and hip.
While keeping your pelvis tucked.
Hold the stretch for 30-seconds, then switch sides.
9. The Forward Hang
Muscle targeted: lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves
To perform this powerful stretch, start off by standing with your feet hip-distance apart and knees slightly bent.
Next, on the exhale, bend at your waist and fold forward from the hips reaching for the floor.
Reach as far down as you can and grab onto your shins, ankles or toes.
For more stretch, interlace your fingers behind your back.
Hold the stretch for one full minute and breathe deeply to release any tension in the lower back, hamstrings and calves.
Additional Resource – 13 Exercises to improve running
10. The Standing Chest Stretch
Chest and shoulder muscles.
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Next, lace your fingers together behind your back and straighten your arms.
Then, with your arms straight, squeeze your shoulder blades together while aiming to extend your elbows out to the sides to open and stretch your chest.
Hold the stretch for 30- to 45-second, then slowly release your arms to the sides.
11. Standing IT Band Stretch
The Iliotibial Band, which is a group of fibers that run along the outside of your thighs.
Begin by standing tall, then cross your left leg behind your right and point the toes of your left foot out about 45 degrees.
Next, while engaging your core, lean slightly forwards and to the right side until you start feeling a stretch on the outside of your left leg.
To stay on the safe side, make sure to lean against a chair or a wall.
Hold the stretch for 30-second, then switch to the other side.
12. The Inner Thigh Stretch
Muscle targeted: Adductors and the whole groin area
Stand upright with your back straight, feet wider than the hips, and toes turned out.
Next, slowly bend your knees, squatting straight down, while keeping your hands on your thighs, until you start feeling a stretch all over the inner thighs.
Make sure to keep your shoulders relaxed and back straight throughout the stretch, and never allow your knees to move past your toes.
Hold the stretch for 30- to 45-second, then slowly press back to starting position.
Bonus Stretches For Runners
The IT Band Stretch
Stand tall with your legs together, then place your left leg behind your right leg, both feet flat on the floor, toes pointing forward and, legs straight
Next, while keeping both legs straight; lean your hips towards the left side and reach your right arm overhead and to the left.
You’re doing this the right way once you feel the stretch down the outside of your right leg and around your hip.
Hold the stretch for 30 to 45 seconds, then switch sides.
Still looking for a deeper stretch?
Place your feet farther apart while bending the front knee and keeping the back straight the entire time.
Additional resource – Single leg bridge for runners
The Low Lunge
Step your right foot forward in a runner’s lunge, drop your left knee and release your back foot.
Make sure your right knee is bent to 90 degrees, and left knee on the ground.
Next, while engaging your core, draw your right hand up onto your right thigh, then hold the stretch for 45 to 60 seconds.
The Lying Hamstring Stretch With Cord
Lay down on your back, upper body relaxed.
Next, while keeping your left leg straight, pull the right one toward your chest, then loop a chord around it.
Next, push away with the foot, gently pulling the leg toward the ceiling.
You should feel a light stretch higher up in the hamstring.
Make sure to keep both knee straight, with the opposite leg flat on the floor
Hold for 30 to 45 seconds, then repeat with the opposite leg.
The Standing Quadriceps Stretch
Stand tall, feet together and core engaged.
Next, while balancing on the left leg, bring your right heel up, then gently pull it toward the right flat, then hold the right ankle and keep your knees together.
Make sure to stand straight and do NOT lean forward or sideways.
Hold on to something for balance if you feel wobbly.
The Piriformis Stretch
Lie on your back, both knees bent at 90 degrees.
Lift the left leg off the ground toward your chest until you feel the pull in the pelvis, then place your ankle on top of your right knee.
Hold the pose for 30 to 45 seconds, then slowly release the left leg back to the floor, straight the right leg, and switch sides.
The Groin Stretch
Sit down on the floor, with your legs in front of your, soles of the feet together and close to your body.
Keep your back straight while bringing your feet closer to your body to intensify the stretch.
While keeping the back straight and core engaged, hold your feet with both hands, then allow for your knees to fall toward the ground.
Next, slowly lean forward pushing the knees toward the floor.
Thank you for stretching tips! I was debating with my self go back in to weights training or running I love running but allways seem to injure my self , running it is i never stretched enough hopefully free of injury this time
I am to stretch
Start now 😉
Great blog! Excellent writing and very helpful for runners of all levels!
I especially like this stretching piece as I have been running for 23 years and do not stretch in the traditional sense. I have found not doing traditional stretches helpful for me to avoid injury. Since I stopped stretching the only injuries I have gotten are from clumsy things like stepping in a hole and turning an ankle, lol.
Because of this I have glazed over stretching routines on my running blog rather letting runners find their own resources for good stretching routines. May I share this post there or at least a link to this post? I believe this could be very helpful.
It would also be nice to highlight someone else’s writing and running experience on there.
Too bad that photo at the top of the page does NOT belong to Jeremy Hall…internet theft at its best. I just happen to know the photographer that took that and he’s not very happy right now!!!
Here is the original link. It clearly says Jeremy Hall and I do use lots of his pictures since he is one of the best.
David this is a great, thank you! Will definitely be sharing on our facebook page for our runners wearing DBelt 🙂
So it says not to stretch before running? So when is the best time to stretch?
Thanks for this information. I have never been sure about stretching before or after a run and this article cleared it up for me. I now know that a warm up is important before a run and stretching is best after a run. Nice post!