Improve your flexibility and drastically reduce your risk of injury. Make a fresh start on one of the most important elements of your running: stretching. Having flexible muscles will hugely benefit your body as well as your running performance, in so many ways. Find yourself running faster and more efficiently with our short, but effective routine.
Why should runners stretch? 5 reasons
- To improve your flexibility
While running, you use the same muscles repeatedly. These muscles will get stronger and tighter, while others that are used less will become weaker. Post-run stretches reduce the stiffness of the strong muscles and strengthen the weaker muscles, ensuring a good muscle balance.
- To help you prevent injury
Maintaining a stretched and mobile body is crucial to avoiding injury. A precious 6-minute cool down routine at the end will lengthen the muscles, tendons, and fascia fibres, allowing your joints to move freely and have full range of motion.
- To improve your running performance
Stretching simply helps you run faster and more efficiently by improving your stride length. Your running form will hugely benefit from having stretched and flexible muscles. Also, it reduces soreness and cramping after running, which means you can accommodate more training sessions within the week.
- To speed up your recovery
A light stretch can help with your recovery if you’ve experienced running-related injuries, especially those associated with the ITB, calves and patella. Tight muscles pull the tendon attachment at the patella, increasing tension, inflammation, and pain. Tight calves, for example, can lead to achilles problems or plantar fasciitis. If you battle some on-and-off injuries, light and gentle stretches should speed up your recovery.
- To open up your body, making it light and happy!
You will also notice the benefits in your everyday life. Flexible muscles open up your range of motion, where tight ones do the opposite. Imagine you are running, and suddenly there is a massive puddle in front of you. You could carry on running, bounce off, stretch those legs wide and fly over it, or you could stretch your legs not-so-wide and land in it, or you could simply stop and walk around it, then start running again. Any of these would work, but guess which one is the most fun? :-)
6-minute post-run stretching routine
- Back and Shoulders
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Interlace your hands above your head and stretch your shoulders, pushing the hands up away from your ears.
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Interlace your fingers behind your back and straighten your arms. Keep your chest lifted and pull your shoulder blades downward.
- Side and ITB stretch
To stretch your right ITB, cross your right leg behind your left leg. Keeping both feet on the ground, lean to your left side and push your right hip outwards. Do not bend forward or stick your buttocks out. Then raise your left arm up and sideways over your head. Repeat with the other leg.
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lift your hands up to the sky, stretching your shoulders above the head. Lower your forehead to your knees by bending at the waist, keeping your back straight and pushing the hips back. Keep both knees straight. Relax and let gravity do the work.
Grab the top of your left foot behind you and gently pull your heel towards your left buttock to stretch the front of the thigh, keeping the knees touching. Avoid leaning forwards or to the side. Repeat with the other leg.
Step your right leg forward. Bend your front leg and keep your back leg straight. Both feet should point forwards. Push your left heel into the ground, keeping your left leg straight. Repeat with the other leg.
Stand facing a wall. Place your toes up and against the wall. The higher you place your toes, the deeper the stretch. Lean forward, keeping your heel on the floor. Your other leg is behind you, toes forward and heel on the ground.
- Hip Flexors
Kneel on your right knee. Put your left foot on the floor with your left knee at a 90-degree angle. Scoop your belly button in and drive the hip forward. Repeat with the other leg.
Lie on your back with knees bent, then cross your right ankle over your left knee. Lace your fingers behind the left hamstring, then gently pull the left leg towards you to activate the stretch on the right side. Keep your upper body flat against floor. Relax, then switch sides.
I hope you enjoy this routine. If you’ve found it helpful or if you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.
What happens if you don't stretch after running?
Skipping such an important element of your training drastically increases your risk of injury. This leads to reduced joint mobility and muscle tightness, which could create more tension at the tendon. It often occurs with patella pain, where tight quads or hip flexors pull on the kneecap, creating inflammation and pain. Tight muscles are also more likely to experience strains, cramps, or soreness.
How long should I stretch?
A quick and simple cool down routine, like the one above, can take as little as 6 minutes, and could make all the difference. It is recommended to stretch after runs, while the muscles are warm, and the joints are lubricated. We advise you to stretch after every run – it doesn’t matter if it’s short or long.
How long should I hold each stretch?
Get into the stretch position slowly, find the point where you feel tension and hold it there for 20-30 seconds (ideally 30). When stretching you should not feel any pain or discomfort – let yourself be carried away by your body. Some people are more flexible than others, so don't try to stretch as much as your friend – we are all unique. And don't forget to do the stretching exercises on both sides.
What is static V dynamic stretching?
You should perform dynamic stretching before activity and static stretching afterwards. Before running, what your body needs is to open the joints, increase the temperature of the muscles and decrease stiffness. Examples of dynamic stretches would be butt kicks, lunges, high knees, or jumping jacks. After running, it helps to focus more on stretching the body with static stretches, by holding a single position for about 30 seconds. Find out more in Static V Dynamic Stretching for Runners »
Should I stretch immediately after my run?
Yes, we recommend stretching as soon as you can after finishing your run, while your muscles are still warm – so, before you take a shower or have your post-run snack / meal. If you stretch with your body completely cooled down, you could be applying too much tension and pull your muscles.
Is it bad to stretch before running?
We don’t recommend using static stretches before running. It negatively impacts the performance and power production, making your body a bit 'lazy' – quite the opposite to how you want to feel at the beginning of your run ;-) See our Pre-Run Mobility Workout here »
Should I stretch on my rest days?
Of course, you can! Especially if you've noticed that your body is feeling a bit tight, adding those extra stretching routines during the week can open your body even more. However, we don’t recommend doing static stretches without any warmup. Therefore, we suggest using a foam roller for a few minutes beforehand and warm up the muscles you want to stretch first. This will help prevent the muscles from being pulled.