The Perfect 10 Running Stretches
These best 10 active stretches from physical therapist Gerard Hartmann are the essentials every runner needs to keep healthy and efficient.
Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
Runners see a lot of different stretching poses, but are often confused on the best stretches to keep them healthy and ready for optimal performance.
This ten-stretch program for runners was developed by Gerard Hartmann, an injury therapist to over 70 Olympic medalists and world-record holders, including Paula Radcliffe and Khalid Khannouchi. Follow the program daily to keep limber all the muscles you use while running, adding efficiency to your stride and keeping you healthy.
It’s a simple step-by-step routine that Hartmann advises all of his athletes to work into their training. The routine typically takes 10 to 15 minutes.
Hartmann’s Notes on the Best Stretches for Runners:
- It is important to do the stretching in the sequence one to ten. The program is based on a natural progression from one muscle group to the next.
- The body is put in the best anatomical position to maximize an isolated stretch.
- Each stretch is held for 2–4 seconds. Return to the start position and repeat each stretch 8–12 times. Repetition increases the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrition to the muscles.
- The stretch is never forced. The muscles should be encouraged gently to lengthen. The cardinal rule of stretching remains: never force a stretch beyond the point of light irritation.
- Because the stretches are active and not held for more than 4 seconds, the stretching routine can be done before running (some runners jog 7 to 10 minutes to increase circulation before commencing stretching but this is optional).
- The routine can be done after running to recoup tissue extensibility.
- One of the characteristics associated with runners as they age is loss of flexibility. Regular stretching is the single most important thing you can do to keep your body limber, prevent stiffness and limit injury.
- By following this 10-stretch program for runners daily you can ensure your flexibility and running efficiency will improve.
1. Single-Leg Pelvic Tilt Stretch
Muscles stretched: low back and gluteus maximus.
Lie on back with legs straight. Flex the exercising knee and pull it toward the chest by contraction of hip flexor and abdominal muscles. Place hands behind thigh to prevent pressure on knee and provide assistance.
2. Hamstring Stretch
Muscles stretched: hamstrings.
Lie on back with legs straight. Slowly lift exercising leg using quadriceps (front of thigh). Assist with rope at end of movement.
Note: Bend the non-exercising leg to stabilize the spine if you have a history of back injury.
3. Glute Stretch
Muscles stretched: gluteus medius & minimus, piriformis.
Lie on back with legs straight. Flex left knee at a 90-degree angle and place rope around mid-foot, clasping rope with opposite hand. Use left hand to stabilize thigh by clasping at knee. Contract abdominals and hip adductors to lift knee toward opposite shoulder. Assist with rope and left hand.
4. Long Adductor Stretch
Muscles stretched: adductor longus, adductor magnus, gracilis.
Lie on back with legs extended and wrap rope around arch of left foot. Point right foot inward and lift left leg to the side by contracting outer-thigh and hip muscles. Assist with rope, pulling outward.
5. Quadricep Stretch
Muscles stretched: rectus femoris.
Lie on right side and bring both knees to chest. With your right hand grasp the right knee from outside. With your left hand grasp the left ankle and extend left thigh back by contracting buttocks and hamstrings and, assisting with hand, heel should press into buttocks.
6. Hip Flexor Stretch
Muscles stretched: rectus femoris, psoas.
Kneel down on left knee, place a pillow or cushion under the same knee. Moving forward onto flexed front leg (right) keep pelvis and back stable by contracting abdominals. As you move forward, contract buttocks and hamstrings to flex left heel to left buttock. Assist stretch with one or both hands bringing heel to buttock as flexibility allows.
7. Short Adductor Stretch
Muscles stretched: pectineus, adductor brevis, proximal adductors.
Sit with soles of feet placed together. Contract outside of hips, spreading thighs as far as possible. Use arms between knees to assist stretch at end of movement.
8. Composite Upper Calf, Hamstrings-Neural Stretch
Muscles stretched: gastrocnemius, hamstrings.
Sit with legs fully extended and about six inches apart. Loop rope around ball of left foot. Straighten left leg and pull toes toward you by contracting shin muscles. Assist with rope. For a deeper stretch, lean forward at the trunk and allow foot to leave floor when pulled.
9. Bent-Knee Calf Stretch
Muscles stretched: Achilles tendon, soleus.
Stand on bent right leg. Place left foot behind right calf to assist stretch to right leg. Hold this stretch 8 to 10 seconds. Keep heel on ground.
10. Straight-Leg Calf Stretch
Muscles stretched: gastrocnemius.
Lean against a wall, car, tree, or other support. Keep right leg straight and heel on ground. Hold stretch 8 to 10 seconds. To increase this stretch, place forefoot on book or two-inch timber block and lean gently into a deeper stretch.
When performing these stretches before or after running, remember to hold each stretch for 2–4 seconds. Return to the start position and repeat each stretch 8–12 times. By doing these 10 best stretches for runners regularly, you will keep all of your running muscles flexible.
These 10 stretches first appeared in an article in Irish Runner magazine. Used with permission.