It is not unusual to feel stiff after a run and want to stretch the muscles out but not know exactly what to do. These seven best stretches for runners have been curated with the demands of the sport in mind.
While it isn’t yet clear whether stretching improves performance, reduces injury risk in sport, or decreases delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) – with research pointing in both directions – there’s also not enough evidence to discourage the practice.
It might be hard to believe, but necessity to stretch in the running community is based more on habit and assumption than on scientific evidence.
Nevertheless, stretching can improve joint range of motion and help runners relax after a run.
Flexibility, which can be lost as muscles grow (muscle hypertrophy can reduce the range of motion of a joint) is achieved through regular stretching over a handful of weeks. Whether flexibility is desirable for runners who cover distances 5km or longer in terms of performance is still being debated, so the choice comes down to you.
If that’s what you desire, stretching can keep your joints flexible. So, what are the best stretches for runners?
Best stretches for runners
- World’s Greatest Stretch
- Hamstring Stretch with Band
- Pigeon Pose
- Calf Stretch
- Couch Stretch
- Downward Facing Dog
- Lying Spinal Twist
Generally, if you want to include stretching in your running routine, it is recommended you don’t perform it immediately before running (these recommendations might vary for sprinters). Instead, you can perform them after your runs while your muscles are still warm and elastic or include a short stretching routine into your mornings or evenings a couple of times per week.
These are some of the best stretches for runners.
World’s Greatest Stetch
We’re not joking, this is the name of this stretch that targets everything, from your ankles and hamstrings to your hips, spine, shoulders and glutes.
Hamstrings Stretch with Band
As the name suggests, this stretch for runners targets the back of your upper leg. It can also open the hip flexors and relax the lower back.
A classic yoga pose, Pidgeon Pose can also be really beneficial for runners with tight hips, as it can help them get a deep stretch in the rear leg hip flexor and the glutes. If you need to strengthen or protect your knees, try the elevated bench pigeon pose shown below.
This is a great stretch for your lower legs, especially relaxing if you run up and down the hills and get tight calves.
This is a very intense hip flexor and quadriceps stretch and loosens the muscles right above your knee especially well. Make sure to place some support under your back knee if you suffer from knee discomfort.
Downward Facing Dog
This yoga staple is excellent for elongating the spine and releasing tension in the ankles and calves. Make sure you keep your lower back straight and try to bring your ankles closer to the floor.
Alternatively, try the Elephant Walk for a more dynamic version.
Lying Spinal Twist
This is a great stretch for runners with tight back muscles and glutes. The lying spinal twist also lengthens and relaxes the spine.
Stretching and Running FAQs
What is stretching?
Stretching is a broad term used to describe the action of elongating muscles either through passive holds or dynamic exercises.
Static stretching is the action of elongating a muscle to the point where gentle resistance is felt and holding that position for around 30 seconds. Dynamic stretching is a movement-based type of stretching, where exercises are a form of active movement that take you through a whole range of motion to reach a stretch.
Should I stretch before a run?
It is better to perform a short warm-up before running than to stretch. A large study conducted on the importance of stretching before physical activity found that stretching before exercise had no effect on injury frequency in army recruits.
Your warm-up can be a quick walk or a light 5 to 10-minute jog.
Does stretching improve running?
In terms of improving performance, the thought process goes like this: your running is affected by two variables, your performance potential and your running economy.
Performance potential is determined by physiological parameters such as VO2 max, haemoglobin levels, blood flow and muscle oxygen extraction, and lactate threshold.
Running economy, or running efficiency, impacts how effective your muscles are at using available energy and is influenced by muscle morphology, elastic elements and joint mechanics.
This last is the variable where stretching might have the potential to impact performance.
However, over the past few years, results are unclear as studies have proved all three standpoints: that stretching increases performance, that it decreases performance, and that it does not impact performance at all.
What reduces injury risk in running?
According to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, training progressively is the single best way to reduce your injury risk in running. This means slowly increasing the frequency, intensity and duration of your runs.