Best Stretches For Runners
Stretching? Who has time to stretch? This was certainly my mindset when I first started running.
Before our runs, Erik would be down on the ground stretching routinely while I just rolled around kissing the dogs–at least I was doing something good, right? I would then run fast right from the start and always just thought that was how my body operated, and I would surely be fine! Until, one day I wasn’t.
My first injury; IT band syndrome. This injury is so frustrating– there is the illusion you are fine, walking flat ground or even uphill doesn’t bother you, but then you turn around and descend and suddenly your leg can only function if it is straight and you’re walking like a zombie. I always seem to reference ‘walking like a zombie‘ because that is exactly how you feel, except with much more pain, I believe.
At first, I didn’t take stretching seriously, even with the injury. After a month of hoping I would miraculously recover (I didn’t), I decided I needed to take action and get serious about stretching before and after any physical activity.
I am no perfectionist when it comes to stretching, but I have my favorites that have helped me overcome injuries and continue to aid in my training.
Get That Body Warm!
Maybe a surprise to you, but pre-run and post-run stretches are very different. We want to focus on dynamic stretching before running and static stretching after.
Dynamic stretches are those that involve movement. They are often faster than static stretches and aim to warm up the body vs stretching out the muscle fibers.
Dynamic stretches do a kick ass job of increasing blood flow and flexibility to your body, specifically your lower half which will be powering you through your run. Here are my favorites:
- With your core engaged, swing each leg for 10-12 reps (1 leg at a time…although, I think that is fairly obvious)
Plantar Flexor Stretch
I get super tight in my calves and shins and this feels so amazingly good (If I get tight during a run, I will stop and do these quick too!)
- Standing tall, put one foot out and then flex and point your toe, hold for 2 seconds; repeat 10-12 reps, each leg.
Lateral Side Lunge
I have had this weird thing since I was a kid where my groin will pop whenever I did this move (it used to freak my friends out, so of course I did it more!) It feels so good to stretch those inner thighs, and it also helps to warm up your quads, hamstrings and glutes!
- Stand with your legs wider than hip width
- Engage your glutes, then lunge to your right (keep knee aligned with your ankle); push butt out and back to help with alignment
- Return to center, then lunge to your left.
- Repeat for 10-12 reps
Squats with Knee Hold
Again, another great way to warm up the lower half while also getting a little stretch in there.
- Stand in your normal squat position, whatever is comfortable for you (For me, I tend to turn my feet out just a little, this helps with knee flexibility)
- Squat down half-way then on your way up lift your right knee and give it a hug.
- Repeat, alternating legs for 10-12 reps
Hip Opener/Groin Stretch
- Lift your right leg so your quad is parallel to the ground and then gently guide it to the side of your body.
- Repeat each leg 10-12 reps
These are my go-to Dynamic stretches before any run. I now like to start off at a pace that is around a minute or so slower than my normal pace. I have found it takes about 15 minutes for my body to warm up and get into the groove of running. That is perfectly fine by me, as this is usually when the boys like to take potty breaks anyways! Also, if it helps to avoid injury, I am game!
Now Cool It Down!
This is my favorite part! These are your post run stretches.
Static stretching is relaxing, recovering and overall righteous. There is nothing more rewarding than coming back, getting on your favorite mat and stretching out all the muscles you just worked– maybe if there was a whole watermelon waiting to be devoured that would be better…one can only wish!
Let’s start with my absolute favorite!
You can do this pose lying down or in a seated position (dependant on your flexibility). This pose is amazing for your hip flexors, and your IT band. It is my favorite stretch for sure, painfully delicious is how I like to describe it.
Lying down version:
- Bring you leg underneath you at a 65 degree angle.
- Extend the opposite leg behind you, and bring your torso down onto your bent leg.
- Keep your hips square and breathe into the stretch for 1 minute. Continue to sink deeper into the stretch
- Repeat on other side
- Sit with your legs bent, arms straight behind, palms down with your fingers facing the back wall
- Cross your right ankle over your left thigh, with your shin parallel to the floor
- Breathe into the stretch for 1 minute.
- Repeat on other side
I have a collage of stretches that I like to do. (Clockwise)
- Downward Dog: Pedal each leg
- Seated Forward Fold
- Wide Stance Forward Fold
- One Leg Hamstring/Calf Stretch (there is probably a fancier name for this!)
Inner Thigh/Hamstring Stretches
Some of my favorite– Crock decided to help too! (Clockwise)
- Butterfly Groin Stretch
- Straddle Pose
- Straddle pose with a side stretch (this feels incredible for your obliques!)
- Admire the Crock Pose (not a real pose, unless you own a Crock)
- Grasp your right ankle with your right hand and pull towards your butt (Use wall as support if necessary)
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds
- Repeat on your left side
Stretching is Key
If you’re reading this, you can see just how simple these exercises/stretches are. Challenge yourself to stretch daily for 21 days. 21 days is the exact amount of time it takes for your mind and body to create a habit. This habit, can be one of the healthiest and most important for you. I cannot stress enough that stretching has opened up a world of opportunity in my physical achievements, but also my mental.
If you take the time to do good things for your body, you will be rewarded– I am sure of it.
Jim Rohn says it best- “Take care of your body. It is the only place you have to live”.