11 Best Stretches for Runners: Improve Your Pliability – Red Bull

11 Best Stretches for Runners: Improve Your Pliability  Red Bull

Every experienced and committed runner knows in theory just how important stretching is. Just ask any of the runners and wheelchair users who participate in the annual Wings for Life World Run. They know that optimum mobility, flexibility, strength, and performance are all underscored by a thorough stretching routine that targets the key muscle groups we use when running.

However, many seasoned runners have probably not given a second thought to their existing stretching routine since they first put it together.

Even the most elite runners can be known to give stretching a miss when running short on time.

As obvious as it sounds, the best way to stay limber, prevent injuries, and hit those personal bests, is to be disciplined about your stretching. Whether you want to fine-tune your stretching routine, or you need a brief refresher, we’ve got you covered. We’re taking a look at 11 of the best stretches for runners, why they’re effective, and how integrating them into your running routine could level up your performance.

Elijah Hall and Cameron Burrell prepare to train in Houston, Texas

© Michael Starghill

Note: Every runner and body is different. Your range of motion or natural flexibility may differ from another runner’s. It’s advisable to seek professional guidance for advice on form as well as medical advice if you are suffering from sustained muscular pain or injury.

Why is stretching important for runners?

Red Bull ultrarunners Dylan Bowman and Tom Evans swear by stretching because of the numerous benefits. Sports medicine clinicians agree, citing stretching as a way to increase mobility, improve flexibility and balance, and strengthen muscles. It also reduces the risk of injury and optimizes your overall performance. Stretching should be the cornerstone of any pre and post-running routine.

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11 of the Best Stretches for Runners

Experts advise integrating dynamic stretches into your pre-run routine and static stretches into your post-run cooldown.

Dynamic stretches are where you move your muscles or joints in a set motion for a number of reps.

Static stretches are where you hold a joint or muscle in a certain position.

5 Pre-run Dynamic Stretches

Dynamic stretches help to warm your muscles up, get your blood flowing, and loosen up your body. This is especially important if you’re moving from being static at your desk to an all-out run. For experienced runners looking to elevate their performance, dynamic stretches could be what they are missing.

Though you don’t need a set routine, as demonstrated by ultrarunner Jim Walmsley, you should integrate dynamic stretches into your pre-run warm-up. They’ve been shown to improve power, sprint, and jump performance.

At the elite level, though, you shouldn’t just do any old dynamic stretch. Terrence Mahon, a coach from Team Running USA, insists that dynamic stretching is most effective when it is sports-specific and activates all the joints and connective tissue that you’ll be using on your run.

Mutaz Barshim

© Flo Hagena

01

Ankle mobility stretches

Runners neglect their ankles all too often even though they play a critical role in stabilizing your feet and driving you forwards. Support, strengthen and improve your ankles’ mobility with this simple stretch:

  1. Stand with your back straight

  2. Rise onto the balls of your feet, ensuring to keep your knees loose.

  3. Stay at the top for ten seconds, then lower your heels back to the floor.

  4. Repeat ten times.

02

Side lunges

Side lunges work your adductors, glutes, and quads while helping you to increase control of your hips. If you’re not a fan of side lunges, you can try other variations like forwards, backwards, and diagonal lunges.

  1. Begin in a standing position. Take a wide side-step with your right leg.

  2. Land your right foot, bend your right knee, and lunge to the right. Ensure to keep your left leg straight.

  3. Be mindful that when you are bending your knee, it does not move beyond the line of your toes, and keep your back straight.

  4. Return to standing and do the same on your left side. Repeat ten times.

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03

Butt kicks

Butt kicks are an aerobic exercise that work your hamstrings and glutes while also increasing blood flow ahead of your run.

  1. Start in a standing position with your feet hip-distance apart.

  2. Kick your right foot back and up towards your buttock. Place it back on the ground. Then repeat the same motion with your left foot.

  3. Build up speed slowly and continue for at least thirty seconds (or ten to twelve kicks on each side), alternating your feet.

04

Leg Swings

Leg swings are an effective stretch for maximizing your mobility, improving your range of motion, and engaging your leg muscles.

  1. Set yourself up with a wall or object with which to keep your balance. Ensure you have enough space around you.

  2. Standing up tall and straight, start swinging your right leg as far as it will go forwards and backward. Repeat ten times.

  3. Do not push past your available range of motion.

  4. Repeat with the other leg.

05

High Knees Skips

High knee skips activate your hip flexors, strengthen your legs, and get your heart pumping ready for your run.

Niamh Emerson trains at Loughborough University

© Greg Coleman

  1. Start standing with your feet facing forwards.

  2. Lift your right leg up, bringing your knee towards your chest. At the same time, bend your left knee and drive yourself upwards in a skipping motion.

  3. Land with your right foot and repeat on the left side.

  4. Continue alternating for thirty seconds.

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Static Stretches for Runners

After a run, the temptation can be to give stretching a miss. But there’s a reason that athletes at the top of their game always make time for their cool-down. Static stretching after your run helps to relieve tension, reduce tightness, and aids recovery. They can also be a good opportunity for a mindful moment to yourself after your run.

Try to hold each position for at least thirty seconds to a minute, and ensure to keep breathing. If you can, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

In addition, remember that these stretches aren’t about pushing your muscles to their limits, but about gently lengthening them out.

Mutaz Barshim stretches during a training session in Paris.

© Ray Demski

06

Iliotibial Band stretch

This stretch technically focuses on lengthening the tensor fascia latae (a hip muscle). However, it also helps to stretch your iliotibial band which is a muscle that runs along the outside of your thigh down to your shin. This stretch is particularly important for long-distance runners.

  1. First, make sure you are near an object or wall that can help steady your balance.

  2. Stand up straight. Cross your left ankle behind your right.

  3. Raise your left arm up and then over your head towards the right. You should feel the stretch on your left side.

  4. You can use your right arm for balance if needed.

  5. Hold for thirty seconds, then repeat on the other side.

  6. Repeat three times.

Your quadriceps consist of hip flexors and a knee extensor, comprising a total of four separate muscles that work together. Tight quads can be the root cause of misaligned hips or back. Strengthening your quads can help to support your knees, prevent the misalignment of your hips and relieve back pain.

Beauden Barrett trains for Red Bull FIT

© Brad Hanson

  1. Start in a standing position.

  2. Place your feet so that they’re hip-width apart.

  3. Lift your right leg and bring your right foot towards your buttocks. Catch your foot with your right hand.

  4. Keep your knee pointing downwards and try to push your right hip in a slight forward motion to keep them aligned.

  5. Keep your feet and thighs together.

  6. Hold for thirty seconds and then switch sides.

08

Seated Hamstring Stretch

Your hamstrings run up the back of your thighs from your knees to your hips. They’re connected to your hip flexors, gluteal muscles, and calves. Tight hamstrings can lead to lower back and knee pain and can impede optimal mobility when you’re running.

Igor Amorelli

© Marcelo Maragni

  1. Get into a seated position.

  2. Extend your right leg out in front of you, slightly to the side. Bend your left knee, and rest your left foot on the inside of the right thigh.

  3. Keeping your back straight, bend forwards from your waist towards your right foot.

  4. If you can, catch your right foot with your hand. Holding your ankle or lower leg also works.

  5. Hold this position for thirty seconds.

  6. Lift back up into a seated position and repeat on the other side with your left leg.

09

Seated Gluteal Twist

Your gluteal muscles or ‘glutes’ are the three muscles (gluteus maximus, gluteus medium, and gluteus minimus) that are in your buttocks. When you’re running, your glutes play a critical role in stabilizing your legs and helping to put more power into your stride.

  1. Get into a seated position with your legs extended in front of you.

  2. Bring your left leg over your right and place your left foot on the floor next to your right knee.

  3. Twist towards your right and ‘hook’ your left elbow on your left knee to gain some grip. Look over your right shoulder in a seated twist.

  4. Hold for thirty seconds and repeat on the other side.

10

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Your hip flexors play a pivotal role – both in everyday life and in running. They’re a muscle group located in the upper thighs, inner thighs, and around the pelvis. Strengthening your hip flexors is essential for reducing the risk of knee or hip-related injuries and preventing misalignment of your hips.

Ben Stokes training in Newcastle

© Greg Coleman

  1. Start in a standing position.

  2. Lift your right foot and place it behind your body, moving into a lunge position. Slowly lower down onto your right knee.

  3. Ensure your left leg is at a 90 degrees angle and place both your hands on your left thigh (this will help maintain your torso in the right position).

  4. Lean your upper body slightly forward into your left hip. Keep your pelvis level.

  5. Hold the position for thirty seconds.

  6. Pull your right foot towards your body and stand up. Switch and repeat.

11

Calf wall stretch

Last but certainly not least, your calf muscles: the soleus and the gastrocnemius. These are the muscles that help drive you forward and absorb the shock when you land. Stretching both of these key muscles is imperative for avoiding shin splints, stress fractures, and mitigating knee pain.

  1. Start by facing a wall. Place your right leg behind you and keep a slight bend in your left knee. Hold the wall with both your hands.

  2. Ensure your right heel is firmly on the ground. Hold the position for twenty to thirty seconds.

  3. Repeat on the other side.

12

Stretching Tips and Tricks

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What should a running warm-up look like?

Every runner has their own way of preparing for a run. With experience, we all collect different warm-up routines and stretches that work well for settling into the right physical and mental state ahead of a run. An effective warm-up should include dynamic stretches that help to get your blood flowing while gently activating key muscle groups.

Another common question is “how long should I warm-up for?” Experts are divided, but one thing is for certain. Even five minutes of dynamic stretching could make a world of difference in terms of preventing injury.

Should I stretch before or after a run?

You should be stretching both before and after your run. Focus on dynamic stretches before, and static stretches after.

How can runners prevent tightness?

All runners suffer from muscle tightness, it comes with the territory. There are a few effective tips you can follow to avoid muscle tightness:

  1. Replace your running shoes often, typically every 400 – 500 miles.

  2. Refine your running form since it’s been shown to not only reduce tightness but improve running economy and enhance performance.

  3. Commit to stretching, for all of the reasons outlined above.

  4. Stay hydrated. Drinking water helps to cushion your joints and keep your muscles working at their best.

How long should you hold each stretch?

Aim to hold each stretch for at least ten to thirty seconds. Ensure you keep breathing throughout each stretch.

Be mindful while stretching. Stretching is not intended to push your body to its limits. If you experience any pain, stop that specific stretch, adjust your position until it is comfortable and aligns with your current level of flexibility.