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?
There’s no question that running can give you lean, toned and enviable legs, but hitting the pavement isn’t enough, especially if you’re serious about staying pain- and injury-free for the long haul.
That’s why you’d need to have a regular stretching routine. It will counteract running’s stress effects.
Why is stretching vital?
Although not all research fully agrees, most serious runners (included yours truly) realize the importance of keeping a flexible body.
Stretching on a regular basis can help you build flexibility, relieve tension and prevent injury.
Unfortunately, most trainees overlook the importance of a good stretching routine for flexibility and injury prevention.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.