The Best Stretches for Runners

Are you getting in some great stretches for runners after your runs?

Or are you stretching before a run?

Which is better?

Stretching before or after running?

Since we have already talked about why and how to properly warm up before your runs, I wanted to address here:

  • the 2 different kinds of stretching - dynamic & static.
  • why stretching is important
  • when it's best to perform each kind of stretch - when and where to include them into your running routine
  • examples of each type of stretch

why is stretching important to a runner?

Stretching allows the body and muscles that runners are constantly putting under contraction to lengthen and elongate. 

runner stretching

the benefits runners can gain from including stretching are:

  • helps sustain your flexibility
  • increases your flexibility
  • increases your range of motion
  • improves your posture and running form
  • releases tightness throughout your body (think neck, lower back, backs of your legs)
  • can improve your running performance over a period of time
  • allows your muscles to stay loose and limber, and avoid becoming brittle and more prone to running injuries.

Why is it important to only include stretching at certain times?

Most runners tend to stretch either before a run, or after a run. 

But is there a best time to stretch! 

Absolutely! And it's after you run. 

The biggest reason to limit your stretching before a run is because if you are including static stretching before you run you will be:

  • increasing your risk of injury
  • hindering how fast you will be able to run during your workout, 
  • and reduce your performance ability!

Let's now talk about the 2 different types of stretches.

Dynamic stretching vs. Static Stretching

static stretching:

Static stretching deals with anything that does not require movement.

For example, standing still, sitting or lying still while stretching would be considered static stretching. 

Static stretching most often requires you to get into a certain position and hold a stretch without moving. 

Dynamic means to be moving.

Therefore, dynamic stretches include movement while you are stretching your muscles.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association, along with countless other research journals state that static stretching before partaking in an endurance run (or any exercise for that matter) is not effective and can in fact be detrimental to performance.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association's stance on the matter of static stretching before running:

“Static stretching has also been shown to lead to a decrease in force production, power performance, running speed, reaction and movement time, and strength endurance.”

The good news is that dynamic stretching does not elicit the same effects as static stretching and in fact has been shown to increase running performance.

Hurray for us!

So how should you include stretching before a run?

To maximize the effects of stretching before a run, include about 8-12 minutes of dynamic stretching and save the static stretching for after your run!

Remember you do not have to include dynamic stretching into your warm up.

You might just want to do a slow jog for a couple of minutes before you actually start your actual run.

Here are some ideas though for when you want to mix things up a bit.

Dynamic Stretches for runners

Here are 4 different dynamic stretches that will help to loosen and warm-up your muscles before a run. 

Toe Touches

Don't just hang out at your toes, bring one arm at a time down to the opposite foot as far as possible and immediately come back up and repeat with the opposite arm and foot.

Arm Circles

Take your arms up and out to the sides and circle them forwards and backwards swimmer style.

This will help keep your upper body loose and free from tightness.

Butt kicks

Just like the name implies bring your heels one at a time up and try to kick yourself in the bum.

This one will really get those hamstrings in the back of your leg fired up and ready to go.

Walking lunges:

Bring yourself down into lunge position and walk a couple of paces.

If you really feel the need to do any static stretches before a run then only do so after you have done some dynamic stretches!

And if you are looking for 8 ways to improve your mobility, Lisa from Mile by Mile has some fantastic exercises you could add to your routine!

Static Stretches for runners:

I get that it can be really easy to just skip the stretching after you run but that is really going to catch up with you! 

However by neglecting to stretch after a run:

  • you will be more susceptible to injury
  • you will lose flexibility
  • you will reduce your potential of recovering at faster rates after a long run, and 
  • you can increase the amount of soreness that you feel after running

No matter how long you have been a runner, start now to make it a habit to include stretching into your routine. 

Maybe begin by committing to stretching after at least 1 day a week.

Then slowly increase that by 1 day each week. 

It doesn't have to be long either.

3-5 minutes can work wonders and allow you to see a difference! 

my 4 favorite Stretches for runners

These four stretches really target all of those major muscles that get used when you run and will make you feel more relaxed and will help keep you flexible!

Quads + IT Band Stretch: 

Grab your foot from behind and touch your heel to your bottom.

Hold on to something for extra support. 

Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute and then switch legs.

Calf Stretches for Runners: 

Spread legs out in split stance shoulder width apart.

Keep back leg straight and feel the stretch.

Keep the weight on your front leg.

Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute and then switch legs.

Hip opener stretch

Lie on ground and cross one leg in front of the other.

Grab and pull uncrossed leg in towards your chest.

Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute and then switch legs and repeat.

Inner Thigh Stretches for Runners: 

Spread feet wide and drop hands down to one foot.

Hold for 30 seconds and then switch sides.

Your weight should be on the side that your hands are positioned.

Here is an infographic on my 4 favorite streches that you can pin or save for your conveince! 

Of course there are so many different types of stretches for runners.

Pinterest is a great place to find stretches for runners but you can also find stretching routines on YouTube  if you want something guided.

Stretch during your long run! 

Obviously, after a run is a great time to stretch.

However, if you have a long run that you need to complete, it can be very beneficial to stretch for about 1-2 minutes during your long run.

I like to stretch at least every hour for about 2 minutes when I am completing a long run.

It helps to breath a second wind throughout my body, helps me relax and aids in performance! 

I usually will do a variation of the four exercises I just listed (except for the hip opener as I don't relish lying on the road or gravel).

Wherever I begin to feel tight or sore is where I will focus on. 

If you are feeling tight after a long run

In the days following a long run you will often feel very tight and sore. 

While this is natural, the best ways to fight this and recover faster are to move! Taking a walk is a great way to release tightness and soreness.

Another option though is to include a stretching session into your recovery day. 

A routine such as in the following video would be a great addition. 

Your Goal for the next 30 days:

If you aren't in the habit of stretching at the end of your run then make that your goal for 1 month to include some stretches for runners at the end of every run.

Remember, it does not have to be lengthy! 

3 to 5 minutes is really a great place to start and even stay at. 

It's definitely true in this case that something is better than nothing.

After those 30 days it should come as second nature for you to include it!

looking to get a deeper stretch?

This little stretching strap takes your stretching to the next level! 

Runners who might benefit from this stretching strap are:

  • those who want to get a deeper stretch (especially after you get used to stretching many runners find that they want more!)
  • if you can't quite seem to reach a certain spot
  • if you are prone to injury in any area of your body
  • if you are currently suffering from and injury

It comes complete with over five thousand 5 star reviews and with a book that contains stretches for runners. 

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