Whether you’re on the trail or on the road, the repetitive movement and high impact of running take a toll on the body. A thorough and consistent stretching routine is key to staying injury-free: it helps speed up recovery and keeps you loose and limber for the many miles to come.
Here are the best stretches for runners, recommended by Caitlin Pascucci, a yoga instructor and the founder of Sangha Studio in Vermont, and Julie Erikson, a Pilates and yoga instructor, the founder of Endurance Pilates and Yoga in Boston, and a runner with 25 marathons and an ultra under her belt.
These moves not only target the big muscle groups of the legs, like the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves, but also the ones often overlooked by runners, such as the hip flexors, adductors (groin and inner thigh), abductors (outer thigh), shoulders, and chest (from a slumped posture at the end of a long run or race), as well as the abs, obliques, and back. “The hip flexors are a big deal, because most of us sit for long periods,” says Erikson.
Make sure you get the blood flowing before you start stretching—do these after a run or short warm-up. If you’re overly sore, go easy, and if a stretch is so intense that you seize up and hold your breath, back off. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds to a minute, with attention on your breathing, sinking a little deeper with every exhale. You’ll need a yoga mat, long foam roller, and either a stretching strap, length of webbing, or resistance band.
What it does: Stretches the hamstrings, the calves, and the lower back.
How to do it: From a standing position, step one foot forward by one to two feet. Interlace your fingers or grab your hands behind your back. Keep your knees straight and back flat as you hinge at the waist to bend forward. When your torso is parallel to the floor, begin to gently round your spine and continue to lower your head to sink deeper into the stretch. Place your hands on the floor, or a yoga block if you can’t reach, for balance if needed. Then, with the front foot, lift your toes and dig in with your heel to increase the stretch on your calf. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to a minute, then slowly reverse the movement to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
What it does: Stretches the hip flexors and the calves.
How to do it: From a standing position, place your hands on your hips, and lunge forward as far as you comfortably can. Keep your back leg straight and your back heel as low as possible. With the front leg, your knee should not extend beyond your toes. Keep your hips square and your chest open. Tilt back your pelvis and sink lower into the lunge to increase the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute, then repeat on the other side.
Low Lunge with Side Bend
What it does: Stretches the quads, the hip flexors, the obliques, the lats, and the back of the shoulders.
How to do it: This stretch is similar to the standing lunge, but it puts more emphasis on the quad over the hip flexors, with the addition of a side bend to target muscles of the upper body. Like before, lunge forward as far as you comfortably can, but this time bend your back knee and lower it to the floor. Your back toes should stay firmly planted on the floor. Keep your hips square and your chest open. Tilt back your pelvis, and sink lower into the lunge to increase the stretch. From this position, extend your arms overhead, clasp your hands together, and without hiking your hips or bending your elbows, lean your hands and torso to one side. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat in the other direction. Reverse the lunge, and repeat again with the opposite leg forward.
Supine Spinal Twist
What it does: Lengthens the spine and stretches the abdominals, the obliques, the chest, and the front of the shoulders.
How to do it: Lie on your side, with your hips and knees both bent to 90 degrees. Keep your knees together and pressed to the floor (you can use your hand on your lower arm to aid you) as you twist your torso from the waist to open your chest. Extend your upper arm straight and perpendicular from your body, and let gravity gently pull you deeper into the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute, then repeat on the other side.
Dead-Pigeon Pose (Supine Figure-Four Stretch)
What it does: Stretches the external hip-rotator muscles and the glutes.
How to do it: Lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross your right ankle over the left knee. Bring your left knee toward your chest, then grab behind your left thigh, and gently pull the leg toward your chest to increase the stretch. Hold the tension for 30 seconds to a minute, then repeat on the other side.
Supine Half Split with Strap
What it does: Stretches the hamstrings and the calves.
How to do it: Loop a resistance band or stretching strap around the ball of your foot, then lie flat on your back, with your legs together and straight. Gently pull on the strap with your hands to raise your leg (keeping it straight) and increase the stretch on your calf and hamstring—but don’t pull so far that your pelvis tilts or your hip hikes. If your hip flexors are overly tight, relieve tension by bending your knee and putting your foot flat on the floor with the opposite leg (the one not in the strap). Hold the stretch for one to two minutes while slowly easing deeper with each exhale. Repeat on the other leg.
You can perform this stretch without a strap by grabbing below your thigh and pulling up with your hands, but this will only target the hamstring and not the calf.
Single-Leg Adductor and Abductor Stretches with Strap
What it does: Stretches the hip abductors and adductors and the IT bands.
How to do it: Continuing from the previous stretch, with your leg still raised toward the ceiling, use the strap to gently lower your leg out to the side, perpendicular to your body, until you feel a stretch in the inner thigh and groin area. Lower your leg as far as you can comfortably go, without moving your pelvis. Let gravity do the work, and control the intensity of the stretch with the strap. Hold the tension for 30 seconds to a minute, then move the leg across your body in the opposite direction to target the hip-abductor muscles and IT band. Like before, only go as far as you can comfortably and without your pelvis shifting. Hold again for 30 seconds to a minute, then repeat with the other leg.
What it does: Stretches the hip flexors, the abs, and the chest, as well as the forearms.
How to do it: Lie facedown, with your legs straight back and together and the tops of your feet on the floor. Place your palms facing forward and flat on the floor below your armpits. Then press with your hands and straighten your arms to full extension to lift up your torso. Keep your quads and glutes activated as you tilt back your pelvis and press it toward the floor to sink deeper into the stretch. Open the chest and look straight ahead or slightly upward, to target the entire front line of the body. Remember to breathe. Hold the pose for 30 seconds, then reverse the movement.
Foam Roller Chest Opener
What it does: Stretches the chest and the front of the shoulders.
How to do it: Lie on your back on a long foam roller, with the roller positioned parallel to and beneath your spine. Extend your arms out to each side, and let gravity gently pull them down to open and stretch the chest. If gravity alone isn’t enough, hold a one-to-two-pound weight in each hand. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute, then move your arms toward your head 30 to 60 degrees, to put more emphasis on the shoulders. Hold again for another 30 seconds to a minute.
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