Whether it’s a light jog around the neighborhood or 5K, running can give your muscles quite a workout so stretching before and after your run is essential to heightening your performance and avoiding injuries. Keep these ten stretches in mind to get your blood flowing before your run and cool off your muscles after you’ve crossed the finish line.
5 Stretches to Do Before a Run
1. Side Stretches
Avoid side stitches by doing a few dynamic side stretches before taking off on your next run. To start, bring both arms over your head and simply lean to the right and then to the left, bending at your waist while keeping your abdominals tight. Do five to ten reps on each side — holding the stretch for two or three breaths for each rep — to warm up your abdominal muscles and keep those annoying side stitches away.
2. Hip Circles
Opening up the muscles and hip joint before a run can really help to prevent injury. Start by resting your hands on your hips and standing with your feet hip-width apart. Move your hips in a circular motion and slowly make the circles wider until you’re moving at your full range of motion. After ten or so circles in one direction, switch directions and swing your hips the other way. Similar to the motion of hula-hooping, hip circles open up the joint and prepare the muscles around your hip for the run ahead.
3. Butt Kicks
Stretch out your quadriceps with a few reps of this classic dynamic stretch. Stand tall and walk forward while exaggerating your backswing so your heels come up to touch your glutes. Once you have that down, try swinging your heels back to touch your glutes while jogging. Do 12 to 15 reps on each side.
4. High Knees March
Don’t let the name of this stretch fool you as high knees work your quads, hamstrings, calves, shins and abdominal muscles all at once. Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart. Place your palms down facing the flood, hovering your arms above your mid-section. Bring your right knee up to touch your right palm, then lower your right leg to the floor and repeat with your other knee. Flex your abdominal muscles each time you raise your knee to your palm to engage your core and fully stretch out your hamstrings.
You can kick this stretch up a notch by one of two ways. If the march is a bit too easy and your muscles don’t feel as loose and warmed-up as you’d like them too, you can just pick up the pace by starting in the same position as before but moving a bit faster. Quickly drive your left knee up to touch your left palm, bring that leg back down then immediately alternate by doing the same motion with your right leg. As you’re alternating knees, you should be getting your blood pumping by staying on the balls of your feet with a hopping motion.
5. Combined Butt Kicks with High Knees
Take your warm up to the next level by alternating butt kicks with high knees. Try doing five to seven butt kicks then alternating to do five to seven high-knee steps. Since the high knees stretch your glutes and the butt kicks stretch your quads, your legs will be comfortable and loose before you take off.
5 Stretches to Do After a Run
Speed up your recovery by saving static stretches for after your done running. Because running uses almost every muscle in your body, you don’t want to solely focus your stretching efforts on your legs but instead incorporate full-body and upper-body static and dynamic stretches to your post-run stretching routine.
1. Arm Circles
Loosen up your shoulders by doing arm circles. Get in a standing position, feet hip-width apart, then raise your arms sideways to shoulder height. While keeping your extended arms straight with palms facing down, rotate your arms forwards so the motion makes circles in the air. After every five to seven circles, change the direction of your rotation. This will stretch your upper back, chest and shoulders after your run.
2. Thigh Stretch
Stand on your right leg, bring your left heel back and grab your heel with your left hand to gently pull your foot towards your glutes and tailbone. By keeping your knees aligned and back straight, you can hold this static stretch for 10 to 20 seconds then repeat on your other leg to stretch out your upper legs.
3. Hip and Back Stretch
Sit on the ground with your legs stretched straight out in front of you. By lifting your left leg and crossing it over your right leg (which should stay straight), you can pull your left leg to your chest and twist the trunk of your body (core and shoulders) to then look over your left shoulder for 20 to 30 seconds then change legs and repeat. This stretch is a great way to loosen up your lower back and hips to avoid post-run muscle pain.
4. Hip-Flexor Stretch
To really stretch out your hip flexors, drop down and kneel on your left knee with your right foot in front of your body then lean forward from the hips; holding for 25 to 30 seconds before switching sides.
5. Calf Stretch
Muscle pain in the calves is very common for runners. To help prevent or alleviate that pain, stand with both feet on a slightly elevated surface like a curb or step and move the heel of your left foot backwards so it hangs off the surface. Then, slowly lower your left heel down until you feel your calf muscle stretch. Hold this for 15 to 20 seconds then switch legs and repeat. To deepen the stretch, you can bend at the knees to loosen your calf muscles a bit more.
While there are dozens of stretches out there to choose from, these are some of our favorites, and most runners agree that dynamic stretches which incorporate movement and full range motion are better for warm ups than static stretches like touching your toes and counting to ten, which can be reserved for after your run. Happy stretching!