There is no magic trick to avoiding injury as a runner, but you can reduce your risk without magic. You can enjoy better flexibility, a decreased risk of injury, and less muscle stiffness by simply incorporating a few stretches into your running routine.
Stretching is a vital part of any training program and is crucial for everyone, from skilled runners to beginners, and it offers many benefits. Fortunately, there are several effortless stretches that you can incorporate before and after a run to help improve muscle performance and reduce your injury risk.
When Should Runners Stretch?
Contrary to popular belief, stretching right before a run isn’t always the best idea — at least if you do it incorrectly. There are two types of stretches that you should incorporate into your routine at different times.
Dynamic stretching involves controlled movements that allow you to stretch out your muscles and soft tissue. Dynamic stretches are best to include before activity, as they help prepare your muscles and ligaments for activity and help to expand your range of motion for peak performance.
You can think of dynamic stretching as practicing an instrument before a performance, as these stretches help you rehearse the movements you will be doing during your run. They are great to use pre-run since they warm up your muscles, improve blood flow, and increase your flexibility so that you reduce the risk of injury.
Static stretching is a form of stretching that does not involve any movement. Instead, you hold the position of each stretch for about 10 to 45 seconds at a time. Static stretching is best to include after your run and makes for a great addition to your cool-down routine.
By stretching after your run, you can also increase blood flow deeper into your muscles, which helps boost your recovery time by reducing lactic acid and cell waste products in the muscles. So, not only will post-run stretching help to increase your range of motion and decrease stiffness, but it will also help you reduce your risk of soreness the next day.
The Best Stretches for Runners
Regular stretching is a valuable part of any training program, as it helps not only with injury prevention and muscle recovery but also with promoting your best running performance. To keep your muscles in their best shape, you should include the following stretches in your stretching routine:
1. Hamstring Stretch
Your hamstrings, located in the back of your thigh, are some of the most important muscles during a run, and unfortunately, they are also some of the most frequently injured. Fortunately, it is easy to stretch them.
To stretch your hamstrings:
- Stand with your feet touching or shoulder-width apart
- Keep your legs straight with a slight bend in the knee.
- Bend at your hips and lower your head to knee height while reaching toward your toes.
- Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, feeling the stretch in your hamstrings and lower back.
2. Calf Stretch
Every time your feet push off the ground during your run, the calf muscles on the back of your lower legs are activated. Therefore, they should be a key target of your pre and post-run stretching.
To do a proper calf stretch:
- Place your left foot in front of your right, with your toes pointed forward.
- Bend your left leg forward until you feel a stretch without bending your right knee behind you.
- Hold the pose for about 30 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side.
3. Quadriceps Stretch
Because your quadriceps are your largest leg muscle group, you should include a quad stretch before and after every run. A quad stretch is fundamental for runners, especially if you plan on running at an incline or decline.
To do a quad stretch:
- Stand straight up and pull your right leg up behind you with your right hand.
- Pull your heel into your glutes so your shin is touching your thigh.
- Keep your knee pointed toward the ground and your back straight during the stretch.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, and then repeat with your other leg.
4. IT Band Stretch
You may be vaguely familiar with a tendon called your iliotibial band, or IT band, that runs outside your leg from your hip to your shin. If you are, it is likely only because this ligament is especially susceptible to injury. By stretching it out, you reduce the risk of injury.
For a good IT band stretch:
- Cross your ankles, placing your left behind your right.
- Lift your left arm straight up and reach it over your head while bending to your right side. You can also hold onto something with your right arm for balance.
- Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds.
- Then, cross your right leg behind your left to repeat on the other side.
Lunges are some of the best dynamic stretches you can do, as they activate almost every muscle in your leg, especially your glutes and hip flexors. Of course, ensure you don’t carry any weight during these lunges — they help you warm up your muscles, not stress them.
For a proper lunge:
- Plant your right foot about one or two feet in front of you.
- Bend your right knee as you lean into your right leg, lowering your left knee to the ground.
- Repeat on the other side, alternating for about 30 seconds or ten reps each.
Your adductor muscles are the muscles inside your legs, running from the pelvis to the inner thigh. They are often referred to as your groin muscles and can easily become tight if you neglect to stretch them.
For an effective adductor stretch:
- Spread your feet to your sides in a wide stance, wider than shoulder-length apart.
- Keep your left foot planted on the ground, and lean to your right side, bending the right knee until you feel a stretch.
- Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds.
- Repeat on your left side.
7. Hip Flexors
Tight hips are never comfortable for a runner, and they can be one of the most easily neglected muscles in a stretching routine. The hip flexors are located where the thighs connect to the upper body and play an important role in lifting your legs.
To stretch your hip flexors:
- Position yourself on your right knee, planting your left foot out in front of you, with your left knee bent at a right angle.
- Place both hands on your left knee and lean your body forward while straightening the right hip, like a lunge, but without lifting your right knee.
- Maintain this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Prevent Running Injuries With Incrediwear
Stretching before and after a run is vital for keeping your muscles in their best shape and reducing your risk of injury. However, stretching is one way to prevent injury and promote a speedy recovery. Another great way to supplement your recovery routine is with Incrediwear products.
Incrediwear sleeves and braces are designed with semiconductor technology to increase blood flow to your target muscles for enhanced recovery. You can wear Incrediwear gear during and after your run to see surprising benefits.
5 Huge Benefits of Stretching: Learn the Advantages of Flexibility | National Academy of Sports Medicine