Stretching has many benefits for both the body and mind, including greater flexibility, better posture, and reduced emotional stress. It can be helpful to do dynamic stretching before running and static stretching after a run to reduce soreness and tight muscles. Runners should be sure to stretch all muscle groups in the legs, hips, and back (especially the lower back).
The muscle focus in runners includes the upper leg, calf muscles, core muscles, upper body, gluteus, deep abdominals and the big toe. These muscles need to be strengthened as well as stretched.
Dynamic Stretching and Static Stretching
Dynamic stretching is active stretching that mimics the movements of running to increase your heart rate, raise your body temperature and warm up muscles and tendons in preparation for your run. You’re always in motion while doing a dynamic stretching routine. This is best done before running as it warms the muscles up.
Static stretching is the reach-and-hold style of stretching. Typically you can hold a position for 30–60 seconds to lengthen and relax muscles. It’s an effective way of increasing flexibility, improving range of motion and bringing relief to sore and or tightness in muscles. This is best done after a run.
Here are 5 Dynamic Stretches before you run: Note - You can view these 5 exercises on video by visiting our Facebook page or on Instagram.
1. High Knees (glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings)
Jog while lifting your knees up to the level of your waist. You can do this for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
2. Gluteus Kicks (quads, hip flexors, hamstrings)
While either jogging in place or moving forward, kick your heels up toward your gluteus. Start slowly and gently to warm up your hamstrings. You can do 8-10 alternating repetitions on each leg.
3. Skipping (calves, glutes, shoulders)
This is skipping but with a little more power to propel your body up and forward. Swing your arms as you skip to warm up your shoulders.
4. Straight-leg lateral swings
Hold onto something stable and swing your leg across the midline of your body and then behind you into extension. You can do 8-10 repetitions per leg.
5. Arm Circles (shoulders and upper body)
Start with your arms at shoulder height and pointed straight out to the side. With your palms facing down, move your arms in a circular motion. Do about 30 seconds forward and 30 seconds backward.
8 Static Stretches after you have had your run:
1. Iliotibial band
This stretch technically lengthens your tensor fascia latae, also known as the iliotibial (IT) band. This muscle runs on the outside of your thigh between your hip and shin. Runners who don’t quite have proper training techniques, and long-distance runners, can typically injure this area.
Cross your left ankle behind your right ankle. Reach down towards your feet. You can hold this position for about 30 seconds and then swap your legs around.
2. The Psoas, Hip Flexor and Gluteals
Kneel with your right leg in front and both knees at 90 degrees. Squeeze your glutes, tilt your pelvis under, and shift your hips forward. Then, raise your left arm over your head, gently stretching toward your right. As you’re stretching to the right, slightly open your torso to the left. You should feel the stretch on the front of your hip on your back leg.
3. Gluteal muscles
Cross your right leg over your left leg and drop the pelvis down towards the ground. Aim to keep your hip bones in the same alignment. You can imagine your left-sitting bone reaching down towards the floor. You can hold for 30 seconds, then swap sides.
The adductor muscles are a group of muscles that are located in the inner thighs and run from your pelvis to your thigh, and in some cases, all the way to your knee.
Stand with your feet spread apart in a wide stance. Without moving your left leg, lean to the right and bend your right knee until you feel a stretch. You can hold for 30 seconds, then swap sides.
5. Back and spine
The spine takes a huge impact as we step to run. The pelvis is typically anteriorally tilted as we run making the lower back take even more strain. Lie on your back with your arms stretched out to the side. Bend your right knee in toward your chest. Gently let your right knee fall towards the left side of your body. Keep your right arm and shoulder blade on the ground. Stop when you feel a stretch. You should feel the stretch in the back of your back and in your thigh and gluteus. You can hold for at least 30 seconds, then swap sides.
You can also, sit on your gluts and lift a knee up to you and rotate to the side. This will also give you a great stretch through the back and into the glutes.
6. Abdominal and arm stretch
This move is perfect for stretching your arms and obliques, or side abdominals.
Stand with your feet hip-length apart. Stretch your arms above your head, dropping your shoulders away from your ears. Grab your opposite wrist, and lean back as far as you can without hurting your back. Straighten up again and lean to the left and then to the right, to stretch your sides.
Your quadriceps are powerful muscles that work hard when you're running, so it's important that you stretch them. Stand up straight, and grab one foot with your hand. Pull your heel gently toward your gluteals. Gently press your pelvis forward, moving towards a posterior tilt. This will give you a greater stretch and protect your lower back. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Release and repeat.
8 Hamstrings and Calves
Bend your supporting leg and put your other leg in front of the supporting leg. This leg needs to be straight. Then hinge down to the straight leg in front. You should feel the stretch in the hamstring and the calf of the leg that is in front. You can hold for 30 to 60 seconds, Then repeat with the opposite side.
As you push a muscle group past its natural range of motion, you may feel some discomfort, but never push past the point of discomfort to pain. Focus on breathing while stretching. As you hold a stretch or move through the stretch, you will probably find that you can gradually increase it.