Running is a pure expression of human movement. A runner’s ability to perform these movements optimally is dependent on the range of motion available in the muscles and joints of the body.
The many rigors of athletic training can lead to muscle tightness and imbalances which inhibit range of motion, cause soreness, and increase the risk of injury.
Stretching is a widely used recovery method by runners of all ages and ability levels. While there are several different types of stretching, static stretching has been shown to be one of the most efficient methods of increasing range of motion.
Static and dynamic stretching - what, when and how to stretch?
Static stretching aims to increase the length of the musculotendinous unit, while also stretching the tissues of the joint capsules and the fascia that surrounds and supports the muscles. This type of stretching has been used in a 10-week program that significantly increased the flexibility of the runners in the test group, without negative effects on their running economy.
Interestingly, the long term changes produced by regular stretching occur first through the mechanical adaptations of the muscles and joint receptors, which is then followed by neural adaptations allowing an increased range of motion without inhibition from the nervous system. This is the opposite sequence of how the body adapts to strength training.
It is important to note that static stretching should be done post-exercise as opposed to before your training; this is because static stretching prior to exercise has been shown to be detrimental to muscle strength and running performance. Other types of stretching such as dynamic stretches can be more beneficial as part of an athletic warm-up.
So how exactly can you incorporate static stretching into your running training program?
These stretches should be performed according to the American College of Sports Medicine recommendations that suggest these stretches should be held for 15 - 30 seconds, repeated two to four times.
7 Post-Training Stretches for Runners
Now that we’ve clarified why stretches after running are beneficial for performance, injury prevention, and soreness reduction, here are 7 runners stretches for the major muscle groups involved in running.
The following will include which muscles the stretch will target and how to perform the stretch correctly. Performing these stretches in the sequence provided for two sets of 15 seconds on each side is one of our favorite post-workout stretching routines for runners.
As a bonus, a standing variation for each stretch is provided if you find stretching on the ground uncomfortable.
Targets: Gastrocnemius, Soleus & Achilles Tendon.
Instructions: Place your hands on the ground and walk them forward into a ‘downward facing dog’ position, with the hands and feet placed shoulder-width apart and the hips raised. To stretch one side, straighten the knee and press the heel into the ground. Hold and repeat on the other side.
Standing: Place hands on a wall or table and perform with the non-stretching leg stepped forward for balance.
Targets: Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus & Biceps Femoris
Instructions: Kneeling in a lunge position, place your hands either side of your front foot. With your chest close to resting on the front thigh, push your hips back, straightening the front leg, and stretching the hamstrings on that side.
You can alternate sides, or alternate this stretch with the following stretch to perform two sets of each on one leg, repeating on the other leg.
Standing: Instead of a lunge position, place one foot onto a chair to perform this stretch.
Hip Flexors Stretch
Targets: Tensor Fascia Latae, Iliopsoas, Rectus Femoris
Instructions: Kneeling in the same lunge position as above, place the hands on the hips and sink the hips down and forward, feeling a stretch in the front of the hip of the back leg.
Standing: Same starting position as Hamstrings Stretch
Targets: Rectus Femoris, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Intermedius
Instructions: Again in the same lunge position as above. If your left leg is the back leg, reach your left hand around and lift your foot so you can grab your ankle. Facing the shoulders forward, use your hand to pull the heel towards the buttocks, stretching the front of your thigh.
Standing: If the lunge position bothers your knees, perform this move in a standing position, bending one leg up to grab your foot behind you to perform the stretch.
Targets: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius & Minimus
Instructions: From the lunge position of the previous stretches, cross your shin in front of you so it is perpendicular to your body. Your other leg will be straight out behind you. Keep your arms straight either side of your front leg, or lower down onto your elbows for a deeper stretch in your glutes.
Standing: From a standing position, slightly bend your knees. Then cross one ankle over the opposite knee, and squat down, holding onto something for balance if necessary.
Lower Back Stretch
Targets: Erector Spinae, Quadratus Lumborus
Instructions: With your legs crossed or straight out in front of you, simply reach your arms forward and stretch your lower back without pushing or straining. You can also bend slightly to either side to target the muscles unilaterally.
Standing: From a standing position, gently bend forward at the hips and reach your hands to your toes. Be gentle in rolling back upright to avoid dizziness.
Upper Back & Shoulders Stretch
Targets: Rhomboids, Trapezius, Deltoids
Instructions: On all fours, thread your left hand under the right arm, resting your left shoulder and side of your head onto the floor. It is optional to reach your right hand upwards to increase the stretch.
Standing: Hold a broomstick across the back of your shoulders, turn your upper torso to one side and hold.
Perform these post-run stretches after your training sessions and events, or even just on your rest days after a short warm-up to keep your running muscles flexible, injury-free, and feeling great!
Let us know your favorite post-run stretches below!