The 3 Best Stretches for Running
Improve your running and minimize injuries with 3 of the best running stretches.
by Brad Walker | First Published October 14, 2010 | Updated May 10, 2019
Muscles used in Running
Among the primary muscles, the quadriceps (rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis and vastus intermedius), the hamstrings (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris), gluteus maximus, iliopsoas (iliacus and psoas major) and calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) are at work during running.
While it may seem that the legs are doing all the work there are a number of supporting muscles that are also very important, including: the shoulders and upper arms, the upper abdominals and the lower back muscles. The external and internal intercostal muscles also function during running.
Most Common Running Injuries
Runners are prone to a wide variety of both acute (traumatic) and chronic (overuse) injuries. The high impact nature of running causes considerable stress to muscles, tendons and ligaments as well as making such athletes vulnerable to strains, sprains and stress fractures. Some of the more frequently encountered injuries include:
- Lower back strain;
- Chondromalacia (Runner’s knee);
- Hamstring strain;
- Hip injuries, including Illiotibial band (ITB) syndrome and Iliopsoas tendinitis (hip flexor strain);
- Lower leg injuries, including shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome), ankle sprain, calf strain and Achilles tendinitis;
- Plantar fasciitis; and
- Stress fractures.
Injury Prevention Strategies
Many running injuries can be avoided through proper conditioning and attending to correct running technique. Additionally, runners should:
- Always warm-up properly prior to training and especially racing.
- Allow time for a complete cool-down period after training and racing.
- Improve cardiovascular fitness with cross training.
- Add strength training to build resistance to injury.
- Incorporate flexibility training to improve range of motion and reduce injuries from tight and inflexible muscles.
- Practice balance, agility and proprioception drills to improve knee and ankle stability.
- Build up running distances and speeds in gradual stages.
- Select comfortable, well fitting and supportive footwear.
- Have your running gait analysed and use orthotic inserts if needed.
- Using ankle supports (braces, taping, strapping, etc.) can reduce the incidence of ankle sprains.
- Avoid running in extreme temperatures, inclement weather, or on uneven or wet surfaces.
- Keep the body well hydrated, especially in hot weather.
- Apply sunscreen to protect the skin, when running in bright sun.
The Benefits of Running Stretches
Proper running stretches are crucial to overcome the rigors of running. Incorporating regular running stretches will improve your flexibility and increase your range of motion, leading to an increased stride length and a greater freedom of movement. Stretching as part of a cool-down also helps to flush out waste products, like lactic acid, and enhances recovery.
Regular running stretches can also help prevent injuries. And finally, even the most basic running stretches can just make you feel better.
The 3 Best Running Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective.
Below are 3 of the best stretches for running; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions with each stretch, and if you currently have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain please take extra care when performing the stretches below, or consult with your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the following stretches.
Instructions: Slowly move into the stretch position until you feel a tension of about 7 out of 10. If you feel pain or discomfort you’ve pushed the stretch too far; back out of the stretch immediately. Hold the stretch position for 20 to 30 seconds while relaxing and breathing deeply. Come out of the stretch carefully and perform the stretch on the opposite side if necessary. Repeat 2 or 3 times.
Watch the Running Stretches video
Click on the play button below if you prefer to follow along to a 10 minute video of the best stretches for running.
These running stretches are best done after your run training (or racing), as part of your cool down. They can also be done as a stand-alone stretching session to improve your running flexibility, but make sure you’re fully warmed up before starting the stretches.
Get more of the best Running Stretches here
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Research and References
- Walker, B. (2011). The Anatomy of Stretching, 2nd Edition (ISBN: 978-1583943717)
- Wikipedia contributors. (2019, April 4). Running, In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
- Callahan, L. (March 12, 2019). Overview of running injuries of the lower extremity. Retrieved May 10, 2019, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-running-injuries-of-the-lower-extremity.
- Messier, S. Martin, D. Mihalko, S. Ip, E. DeVita, P. Cannon, D. Love, M. Beringer, D. Saldana, S. Fellin, R. Seay, J. (2018). A 2-Year Prospective Cohort Study of Overuse Running Injuries: The Runners and Injury Longitudinal Study (TRAILS). American Journal of Sports Medicine, 46(9):2211-2221.
- van Mechelen, W. (1992). Running injuries. A review of the epidemiological literature. Sports Medicine, 14(5):320-35.
- Fields, K. Sykes, J. Walker, K. Jackson, J. (2010). Prevention of running injuries. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 9(3):176-82.
- Kokkonen, J. Nelson, A. Eldredge, C. Winchester, J. (2007) Chronic Static Stretching Improves Exercise Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(10), 1825-1831.
- Shellock, F, Prentice, W. (1985) Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries. Sports Medicine, 2(4):267-78.
- Fradkin, A. Zazryn, T. Smoliga, J. (2010) Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(1):140-8.
About the Author: Brad Walker is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon (author page) has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.
Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.