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Cross Training For Runners

The 12 Best Stretches For Runners

13 Mins read

Are you on the hunt for the holy grail of stretches specifically tailored for runners? Well, look no further because you’ve stumbled upon the ultimate stretch haven.

Let’s talk about running for a moment. The joy of hitting the pavement and knowing that you’re not only having a blast but also doing something incredible for your health. Running is truly the bomb!

But, and here’s the twist, there’s always a catch, right? While running is a fantastic cardiovascular exercise, it’s no secret that it can take a toll on your body. The impact and strain on your lower limbs and joints can be a real pain in the you know where.

Over time, all that stress can tighten up your muscles, limit your flexibility, and even put you at risk for pesky injuries. Not exactly the dream scenario we had in mind, huh?

But fear not, my running comrade, because we’re here to save the day. I don’t want you to suffer from tight muscles or sidelined by nagging injuries. Together, we’ll unlock the secrets of stretching that will keep you limber, mobile, and ready to conquer any distance.

So, get ready to stretch your limits and kick those tight muscles to the curb. I’ve got a collection of top-notch stretches designed specifically for runners like you. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out on your running journey, these stretches will supercharge your flexibility and unleash your full running potential.

Ready? Let’s get to it.

The Road to Trouble

Picture this: you’re on the open road, each stride propelling you forward, feeling the wind in your hair and the pavement beneath your feet. Running is your escape, your passion, and your ticket to a healthier you. But here’s the harsh truth: with every step you take, your lower limbs are working overtime, flexing and extending to keep you going.

But it comes at a cost.

As you log those miles and push your limits, your hardworking muscles and tendons start to accumulate scar tissue, tension, and imbalances. It’s like little roadblocks forming in your body, hindering your running performance and increasing the chances of those pesky overuse injuries. We’re talking about Achilles tendonitis, IT Band Syndrome, and more. Yikes!

But fear not because you’re not helpless. Enter the world of post-run stretching, one valuable weapon against the perils of pounding the pavement. When you stretch those tired muscles after a run, you’re not only countering the high-impact effects of running, but you’re also releasing tension and tightness that built up along the way.

Now, I’m not a scientist, but in my own experience, post-run stretching has been a game-changer. It helps me prevent that dreaded post-workout soreness and stiffness. It’s like a soothing balm for my muscles, giving them the love and attention they deserve. Plus, let’s not forget the added bonus of becoming more flexible. Say goodbye to those mobility issues that can plague runners, and hello to a more efficient and enjoyable running experience. Trust me, it’s worth it.

But here’s a twist you may not see coming: pre-workout static stretching, you know, the kind you did back in high school gym class? Turns out, the research isn’t too fond of it. Studies have shown that holding those stretches for longer than 30 seconds can actually have a negative impact on your endurance, strength, and explosive performance. It’s like stretching before a race only slows you down. Science has also cast doubt on the idea that pre-workout stretching prevents injuries. So, if you were planning to stretch before hitting the road, you might want to reconsider.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. Check out the research for yourself and see what the experts have to say. In the meantime, make post-run stretching your new best friend. Embrace the power of releasing tension, improving flexibility, and taking care of your body. Your running journey will thank you, both in the short term and the long run. So, stretch it out, my friend, and hit the road with confidence. The only trouble you’ll find is the thrill of the run itself.

How to Stretch For Runners

First things first, timing is everything. I hate to sound like a broken record but save your stretches for after your run, when your muscles are all fired up and the risk of muscle tears and injuries is low. Trust me, you don’t want to push your luck by stretching cold muscles.

Now, let’s talk technique. When you stretch, take it slow and steady. This is not a race, my friend. Each stretch deserves your full attention, so hold it for a sweet spot of 30 to 60 seconds. Don’t bounce around like a wild jackrabbit or make jerking motions. That’s a recipe for disaster and a one-way ticket to a pulled muscle. We don’t want that, do we?

Remember to focus on your breathing. It’s not just about inhaling and exhaling; it’s about using your breath to release into the stretch. As you exhale, imagine all the tension melting away, leaving your muscles feeling loose and relaxed. Ah, bliss.

Now, here’s the key: stretch gradually. Ease into each stretch until you feel a comfortable level of discomfort. We’re talking that sweet spot where you can feel the stretch doing its magic, but without tipping over into the realm of pain. Trust your body’s signals and listen closely. You’re in control.

Oh, and one more thing: never push beyond the pain zone. It’s like walking a tightrope, my friend. You want to find that perfect balance between challenging your muscles and keeping them safe. If it hurts, back off. There’s no need to be a hero here.

What to Stretch?

Now that we’ve covered the how, let’s talk about the what. You’re probably wondering, “Which muscles should I be stretching?” Well, fret not, , because I’ve got you covered. Let’s dive into the muscle groups that deserve some extra love and attention after your run:

First up, we have the hamstrings. These are the muscles located on the back of your thighs. They work hard to propel you forward with every stride, so it’s only fair that you show them some post-run TLC.

Next on our stretching hit list are the quadriceps. These mighty muscles reside at the front of your thighs and play a vital role in knee extension and leg power. Give ’em a good stretch to keep them happy and limber.

Now, let’s focus on that magnificent hip region. We’re talking about the gluteals, those lovely muscles in your buttocks, as well as the lateral rotator, the adductors group, and the iliopsoas. They all work in harmony to provide stability and mobility during your runs. Give them some love with targeted stretches to keep them in tip-top shape.

Don’t forget about those calves! They’re the unsung heroes of your lower legs, providing that essential push-off power. Stretching them out will help maintain their flexibility and prevent any unwanted tightness or discomfort.

But wait, we’re not done yet. Your upper body and lower back deserve some attention too. That includes your arms, neck, chest, and upper back muscles. Running is a full-body endeavor, my friend, and neglecting these areas can lead to imbalances and potential issues down the road.

The Best Stretches For Runners

Without further ado, here’s a list of my favorite runners-friendly stretches.


Targeted Muscle: The Hamstrings

Tight hamstrings can be a real pain in the behind, and I mean that literally! They’re like the tightrope walkers of your body, balancing between flexibility and injury. But fear not, my fellow runner, because I’ve got a couple of stretches up my sleeve that will give your hamstrings the love and attention they deserve.

1: Standing Single Leg Hamstring

Stand with your feet hip-distance apart.

Bend your right knee slightly and extend your left leg in front of you, pointing your toes up.

Holding this position, lower your upper body towards your knee and reach your hands toward your left foot’s toes as far as you can.

Hold this position for 30 seconds, then switch to the other side.

2: The Lying Hamstring Stretch

Lie flat on your back with your legs extended and your back straight.

Keeping your left leg extended on the floor, pull your right knee to your chest.

Put your hands behind your right knee and slowly straighten the leg towards the ceiling, keeping both hips on the floor.

Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

Targeted Muscle: The Calves

Ah, the calves, the unsung heroes of the running world! These powerful muscles work tirelessly with every step you take, propelling you forward on your running journey. But, my friend, they can also be a source of trouble if they become tight and inflexible. We don’t want that, do we? No, sir!

3: The Runner’s Calf Stretch

Stand facing a wall.

Then place both arms on the wall with your arms extended and your back straight.

Step your right leg backward while keeping your heel planted to the ground and your leg extended without bending your knee.

To stretch the calf, lean forward slightly towards the wall while actively pressing your back heel into the ground until you feel a good stretch in the muscle.

Breathe deeply and hold for 30 seconds or more, then switch sides.

Targeted Muscle: The Quadriceps

Your quads are the turbo boosters that propel you forward with every stride. But, my friend, when those quads get tight, it’s like putting a speed limit on your running dreams. We can’t have that, can we? No way!

Let’s talk about the magic of flexible quadriceps and how they can be your secret weapon for stronger knee lift and lightning-fast speed. Imagine your quads as elastic bands, ready to stretch and catapult you into running greatness.

When your quadriceps are flexible, they allow for a fuller range of motion, giving your knees the freedom to lift higher and with ease. It’s like having supercharged pistons in your running engine, firing with precision and power. But when those quads tighten up, oh boy, you’re in for a world of trouble. That’s when the infamous “runner’s knee” likes to rear its ugly head.

4. The Standing Quadriceps Stretch

Start by standing with your legs hip distance apart.

Stand tall, while holding your right foot behind your butt, with your knee pointing to floor.

If you need it, grab a chair for balance.

Keep your thighs lined up and your core engaged throughout the stretch, holding for no more than 30 seconds.

Repeat with the left leg.

Targeted Muscles: The Hip Flexors

These muscles function as a bridge connecting your upper and lower body, allowing for smooth and efficient movement. They’re like the well-oiled gears that keep your running machine in perfect sync. But when these hip flexors are weak and tight, oh boy, trouble comes knocking on your running door.

Runner’s knee, the notorious Iliotibial Band Syndrome, and nagging lower back pain are just a few of the unwelcome guests that can crash your running party if you neglect your hip flexors.

Trust me, I’ve had my fair share of knee problems, and looking back, I believe tight hip flexors were the culprit all along. But hey, we live and learn, right?

5. The Hip Flexors Lunge Stretch

Begin in a kneeling position and lunge forward with your right leg, keeping your left knee pressed to the floor.

Extend your hips forward until you feel a stretch down the front of your left leg around your hips.

Repeat on the opposite side.

6: The Pigeon

This is one of my favorite yoga poses for runners.

It targets the hip flexors and the lower back.

Assume table position (on your hands and knees with a flat back).

Bend your right knee and bring it forward to a comfortable position between your hands
Take your left leg and stretch it fully behind you
Exhale and bend down to the ground.

Make sure you’re resting your torso on your leg and rest your head on the floor.

Targeted Muscles: The Lower Back Muscles

Imagine your lower back as the sturdy anchor holding everything together as you embark on your running journey. Just like the keystone of a magnificent bridge, these muscles provide stability and support, allowing you to move with grace and power. But as the miles add up and the intensity increases, these hardworking muscles can become tense and fatigued, leading to discomfort and limitations in your running performance.

That’s where regular stretching comes into play. Stretching those lower back muscles is like giving them a well-deserved vacation. It releases the built-up tension, improves their flexibility, and restores balance to your running kingdom. It’s the secret weapon to unlock your full running potential and keep you going strong for the long haul.

7. The Lower Back Knee Crossover Stretch

Lie on your back with your legs extended and your back straight.

Bend your right leg and grab your right foot.

Keeping your left shoulder on the floor, grab the outside of your knee with your left hand and guide it across your body and towards the ground on your left side.

Try to move your knee closer to the ground while keeping both shoulders in contact with the floor.

Go back to starting position and repeat the same stretch on the other side.

You can end this runners’ stretch routine by doing Savasana.

Lay there on your back, with your arms and legs spread at about 45 degrees and breathe deeply.

It’s good for you!

8. Hip Flexors & Psoas Stretch

Muscle targeted: The hip flexors and the Psoas

Proper Form

Start off by getting into a forward lunge position, then place your hands on your lead knee.

Next, lower your left knee to the ground, then to stretch, press down with your hands and extend the hips forward until you start feeling a stretch in front of your thigh, groin and hip.

While keeping your pelvis tucked.

Hold the stretch for 30-seconds, then switch sides.

9. The Forward Hang

Muscle targeted: lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves

Proper Form

To perform this powerful stretch, start off by standing with your feet hip-distance apart and knees slightly bent.

Next, on the exhale, bend at your waist and fold forward from the hips reaching for the floor.

Reach as far down as you can and grab onto your shins, ankles or toes.

For more stretch, interlace your fingers behind your back.

Hold the stretch for one full minute and breathe deeply to release any tension in the lower back, hamstrings and calves.

Additional Resource – 13 Exercises to improve running

10. The Standing Chest Stretch

Muscle targeted:

While we often associate running with lower body strength and endurance, it’s essential not to overlook the vital role that our chest and shoulder muscles play in our running performance.

These muscles are not just for flaunting a confident posture; they are essential for optimal running mechanics, breathing efficiency, and overall upper body stability.

Proper Form

Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.

Next, lace your fingers together behind your back and straighten your arms.

Then, with your arms straight, squeeze your shoulder blades together while aiming to extend your elbows out to the sides to open and stretch your chest.

Hold the stretch for 30- to 45-second, then slowly release your arms to the sides.

11. Standing IT Band Stretch

Muscle targeted:

The IT band, short for iliotibial band, is a thick band of connective tissue that runs along the outside of the thigh, from the hip down to the knee. It plays a crucial role in stabilizing the knee joint and facilitating proper movement during running. As you pound the pavement, the IT band acts as a stabilizer, helping to control excessive sideways movement of the knee and ensuring optimal alignment of the leg throughout each stride.

Proper Form

Begin by standing tall, then cross your left leg behind your right and point the toes of your left foot out about 45 degrees.

Next, while engaging your core, lean slightly forwards and to the right side until you start feeling a stretch on the outside of your left leg.

To stay on the safe side, make sure to lean against a chair or a wall.

Hold the stretch for 30-second, then switch to the other side.

12. The Inner Thigh Stretch

Muscle targeted: The adductors refer to a group of muscles located on the inside of the thigh, responsible for bringing the leg inward toward the midline of the body. They include muscles such as the adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, and the gracilis. These muscles not only assist in leg movement but also contribute significantly to maintaining proper pelvic stability and alignment during running.

When it comes to running, the adductors play a crucial role in maintaining optimal stride mechanics. They work in conjunction with the glutes and hip muscles to provide stability and control during each stride. By engaging the adductors, you enhance the efficiency and power of your running stride, leading to improved speed, endurance, and overall running performance.

Proper Form

Stand upright with your back straight, feet wider than the hips, and toes turned out.

Next, slowly bend your knees, squatting straight down, while keeping your hands on your thighs, until you start feeling a stretch all over the inner thighs.

Make sure to keep your shoulders relaxed and back straight throughout the stretch, and never allow your knees to move past your toes.

Hold the stretch for 30- to 45-second, then slowly press back to starting position.

Bonus Stretches For Runners

The IT Band Stretch

Stand tall with your legs together, then place your left leg behind your right leg, both feet flat on the floor, toes pointing forward and, legs straight

Next, while keeping both legs straight; lean your hips towards the left side and reach your right arm overhead and to the left.

You’re doing this the right way once you feel the stretch down the outside of your right leg and around your hip.

Hold the stretch for 30 to 45 seconds, then switch sides.

Still looking for a deeper stretch?

Place your feet farther apart while bending the front knee and keeping the back straight the entire time.

Additional resource – Single leg bridge for runners

The Low Lunge

Step your right foot forward in a runner’s lunge, drop your left knee and release your back foot.

Make sure your right knee is bent to 90 degrees, and left knee on the ground.

Next, while engaging your core, draw your right hand up onto your right thigh, then hold the stretch for 45 to 60 seconds.

The Lying Hamstring Stretch With Cord

Lay down on your back, upper body relaxed.

Next, while keeping your left leg straight, pull the right one toward your chest, then loop a chord around it.

Next,  push away with the foot, gently pulling the leg toward the ceiling.

You should feel a light stretch higher up in the hamstring.

Make sure to keep both knee straight, with the opposite leg flat on the floor

Hold for 30 to 45 seconds, then repeat with the opposite leg.

The Standing Quadriceps Stretch

Stand tall, feet together and core engaged.

Next, while balancing on the left leg, bring your right heel up, then gently pull it toward the right flat, then hold the right ankle and keep your knees together.

Make sure to stand straight and do NOT lean forward or sideways.

Hold on to something for balance if you feel wobbly.

The Piriformis Stretch

Lie on your back, both knees bent at 90 degrees.

Lift the left leg off the ground toward your chest until you feel the pull in the pelvis, then place your ankle on top of your right knee.

Hold the pose for 30 to 45 seconds, then slowly release the left leg back to the floor, straight the right leg, and switch sides.

The Groin Stretch

Sit down on the floor, with your legs in front of your, soles of the feet together and close to your body.

Keep your back straight while bringing your feet closer to your body to intensify the stretch.

While keeping the back straight and core engaged, hold your feet with both hands, then allow for your knees to fall toward the ground.

Next, slowly lean forward pushing the knees toward the floor.

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