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The Ultimate Stretching Routines for Runners

Jason Hughes
Published by Jason Hughes
Fact checked by Markus Oliver, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: May 6, 2022

Whether you’re a beginner training for your first 5k run or a veteran marathoner, stretching routines for runners can prevent injuries and improve your endurance. But when and how much you stretch and how you warm up your body before your run can also have an effect on your performance, speed, and recovery, according to the latest research. While a 2021 study published in The Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reported that stretching before your run can improve your running performance and perception of how long you run, not all researchers agree on whether it’s best to stretch before or after your run–or both–or whether you should warm up before you stretch.

In this article, we’ll cover the latest research on:

Stretching Benefits for Runners

Not all runners stretch before and after their workouts, and the research on pre- and post-running stretching varies. Some research suggests that stretching isn’t good for sprinters, while other studies suggest that stretching doesn’t always decrease muscle soreness after a workout.

Still many doctors agree that stretching–before and after a run–offers many advantages, including:

  • Reducing your risk of injury by loosening up your muscle fascia and tendons.
  • Increasing your blood flow by getting your heart pumping.
  • Easing joint and tendon movement.
  • Improving recovery post-run before your muscles stiffen.
  • Helping you feel better overall with improved range of motion.

Should You Warm-up Before You Stretch?

female runnerAccording to the Mayo Clinic, you should warm up before you stretch with light walking, bike riding, or slow jogging for 5 to 10 minutes. It’s easier to get injured if you don’t warm up and stretch your “cold” muscles.

Another option is to perform a “dynamic warmup,” which means performing movements slowly and methodically that mimic the motion of running but at a lower intensity. As you warm up, you gradually add speed and intensity to your movements.

In addition, adding a foam roller to your warmup may also help your muscles loosen. Some of the best foam rollers for runners on the market are included in our article below.

Dynamic Stretching vs. Static Stretching: Which is the Best Stretch for Runners?

Research suggests dynamic stretching is better to do before you run, whereas static stretching can help you recover faster after a run. But what’s the difference between the two?

What is Dynamic Stretching?

Dynamic stretching involves gentle, repeated lengthening exercises that activate the muscles and tendons and incorporate body movement. Dynamic exercises activate the muscles, teaching the brain-specific movements that correlate to running.

Dynamic stretching also improves your speed, agility, and acceleration and should be performed after a low-intensity warmup of cycling, swimming, or jogging. Even if you’re just getting a few easy miles in, dedicating 10 to 15 minutes of dynamic stretching after your warm-up can make a huge difference.

The Best Dynamic Stretches to do Before Your Run

Here are five dynamic exercises you can perform before your run and ideally after you warm-up:

Walking Piriformis Stretch

One of the easiest mistakes a runner can make is not using their glutes when they run. The glutes power your stride and help drive the knees forward. Doing 20 walking piriformis stretches (10 on each side) warms up the piriformis muscle located in the upper glute near the hip joint.
To do this stretch, grab below the knee and lightly hug your body, then rotate your leg inward with each step.

Hamstring Scoops

Hamstring scoops are easy dynamic movements that lengthen the belly of the hamstring and the tendons that attach to the glutes. To do this exercise, walk forward and bend at the hips (avoid arching your back) to make a scooping motion with each step. This is an excellent hamstring stretch.

Walking Quad Stretch

To balance out the hamstrings, be sure to dynamically stretch your quads. Keep your hips forward (and avoid arching your back), bend your knee back, and grab your ankle/foot with your hand. Raise your arm on the opposite side for stability.

Walking Lunges

Lunges are excellent dynamic movements that are great hip stretches for runners and strengthen the glutes and core. When walking forward, it’s important to make sure your knee does not extend over your foot, so you can keep your balance centered. Walking lunges are also excellent leg strengthening exercises for runners.

Leg Swings

Finishing up your dynamic stretches with some leg swings is an easy way to shake out the legs and get some additional range of motion before your run. Find a wall or something to lean against, and swing your legs back and forth with one arm on the wall for balance, and then side to side facing the wall. These should not feel painful or forcibly hard, but rather a smooth, light stretching movement.

What is Static Stretching?

While dynamic stretching involves shorter stretches with movement, static stretching is purposely slow and does not incorporate moving drills. After a run, your blood flow is increased as your heart continues to pump more oxygen to the muscles. Therefore, performing static stretches after a run helps improve your range of motion and flexibility without increased risk of pulling a muscle or aggravating your body.

The Best Static Stretching Routines to Do After Your Run

Once you’ve finished your run, follow a series of static stretches to keep your muscles from tightening up too much. Holding for up to 60 seconds is recommended. Here are four static stretches to perform after your run:

Hamstring Stretch

Runners are notorious for tight hamstrings. To stretch your hamstrings without overdoing it, prop your leg on a stairwell or raised surface, lean forward at the hips, and slightly bend your knee. Be sure not to hyperflex the knee.

Hip Flexors and Quad Stretch

The hip flexors are a small group of muscles that connects the quads to the hip and assist with raising your knee when you run. To stretch the hip flexors, kneel one leg on a yoga mat or soft surface, put your hands on your hips, and slightly lean forward until you feel a stretch. You can advance this stretch to a quad stretch by grabbing the front of your ankle and pulling back to your buttocks.

If the latter movement is too much, one of the best quad stretches for runners is simply standing up, grabbing your ankle, and pulling back keeping your hips forward to stay balanced. Place your other hand on the wall if you need assistance.

Calf Stretch

Some people stretch their calves on the stairs, but this can cause too much load on the muscle. It’s better, according to some doctors, to stand at arm’s length from a wall, place one foot behind the other, and slowly bend one leg forward. Keep the leg you are stretching straight.

IT Band Stretch

The iliotibial band (IT) begins at your hip and runs down your thigh to the knee. This is a difficult muscle to stretch, so it’s helpful to use a foam roller to massage the area.
To stretch the IT band, cross your right leg over your left leg, and reach your right arm overhead towards the right side. You’ll feel a stretch run along your right hip. Repeat on the opposite side.

Other Running Tools to Enhance Your Recovery

Today runners can find more recovery tools than ever before to help them besides just stretching. Drinks, powders, foam rollers, myofascial balls–you name it. Here are some of our favorite recovery tools for runners:

Best Foam Rollers for Runners

Our favorite foam rollers for runners include:

Trigger Point Grid Roller: This grid foam roller is good for deep tissue massage and muscle recovery.

Rogue Standard High Density Foam Roller: This deep tissue massager touts faster recovery time.

Rogue RumbleRollers: This roller is designed to mimic thumb-like deep tissue massage pressure and is designed to be more aggressive than some rollers.

Best Sports Drinks for Runners

Some of the best sports drinks for runners are touted to improve recovery after running. Do they work? We think so. Typically, according to the UW Public School of Health, a good recovery drink should include protein, carbohydrates, and electrolytes.

Here are some of our favorite sports drinks for runners:

Other Favorite Recovery Tools for Runners

We love these recovery devices for our runners:

FAQs

Can stretching help you run faster?

Research around this topic varies. Some research suggests that stretching before you sprint can actually inhibit your performance, while most doctors recommend stretching after you run to increase mobility and prevent injuries. Check with your coach or doctor if you’re unsure which is right for you.

What stretching exercises should I do before I run?

Most recent research suggests that dynamic stretching or dynamic warmups are the most effective ways to stretch your muscles before you run. We like hamstring scoops and walking lunges.

Should runners stretch every day?

Most doctors agree that stretching as much as possible is good for runners, but keep in mind that warming up your muscles before you stretch is recommended by most current research.

What are the best yoga poses for runners?

Runners tend to have tight hips, so yoga poses that are best for runners include hip openers, such as child’s pose (Balasana), yogi squat (Malasana), or half pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana).


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