Stretching is an important component of any fitness routine. Although it can be tempting to finish a run, skip the stretches and go straight to the post-run burger, you know better. Stretching has many benefits, including increased range of motion and improved muscular coordination. Research shows that flexible muscles also recover more quickly because they are more receptive to glycogen replacement, which will fuel your next run. Even better: Your flexibility routine doesn't have to take a lot of time. Just five or 10 minutes is all you need at the end of your workout.|
While any full-body stretching routine will do, there are some specific stretches for runners that can help improve your performance and prevent the aches and pains commonly associated with the sport.
Because running, while good for you in many ways, does put stress on your body—especially the lower limbs and joints—the following stretches target the muscles runners use most. Follow the short routine below if time is lacking, or ideally, add these running-specific stretches to your current flexibility training program, which should also include some general upper body and core stretches, too.
6 Important Stretches for Runners
The most important thing to remember is to only stretch warm muscles. SparkPeople's fitness experts recommend stretching after you workout; this is when your muscles are warmest and your joints are lubricated, and therefore primed to stretch. While it's okay to stretch after your warm-up (but before your run), doing so might actually interrupt or negate the warm-up process, which is more likely to result in injury or problems. Unless specified, breathe deeply and hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Then, repeat on opposite side (if applicable). Perform each stretch once or twice, stretching only to the edge of discomfort—between a five and seven on a scale of one to 10.
Runners are notorious for tight hamstrings that can cause lower back problems and lead to pulled muscles. Tight hamstrings also limit your range of motion, which can affect running stride, form and speed. To improve hamstring flexibility, try this lying hamstring stretch, which keeps the spine neutral whereas basic toe touches (forward bends) do not, thereby reducing risk of low back pain.
Stretching the quads forces your hamstrings to contract, helping them get stronger. It's important to have strong and flexible quads since these muscles help lift your knees and increase your speed. This standing quad stretch is into to incorporate after a run, and once you master this, you can carefully pull your thigh and knee slightly behind your body (not pictured) for a greater hip flexor stretch at the same time.
Your piriformis muscle is responsible for the rotation of the hip. Although it's very important in activities that frequently change direction, it tends to tighten up in runners. If the piriformis becomes too tight or spasms, it can irritate the sciatic nerve, which causes pain in the glutes, lower back and thighs. To prevent these issues, try these two stretches:
Flexible calf muscles can improve your ability to increase the length of your stride, which results in increased speed. Loose calf muscles also take some of the burden away from your shins as you bring your trailing leg forward when running, helping prevent shin pain or shin splints. This basic calf stretch is an easy one to incorporate. Check out this video for more calf stretching demonstrations.
Iliotibial (IT) Band Stretch
The illiotibial band is part of a muscle that runs along the outside of the knee and can create pain when it starts to rub on the kneecap. This is typically an overuse injury (trying to do too much too soon or not giving your body adequate time for rest and recovery). Stretches that target the IT band, like the example below, can reduce pain and prevent future knee problems.
Try these stretches specifically for runner after cooling down, and see if it makes a difference in your running performance and progress. It doesn't take long to notice improvements in flexibility, so take the time to stretch and your running legs will thank you for it!