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13 Best Stretches For Runners: Pre and Post Run

Stretching before and after doing any form of exercise is important for so many reasons, including muscle recovery and reducing the risk of injury. And running is no exception!

From dynamic pre-running stretches to static stretches to do after running, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best stretches for runners, plus a further 3 exercises for an even deeper stretch.

Whether you’re new to running or consider yourself a running pro, check out our ultimate guide to runners’ stretches!

If you think you have what it takes to turn your passion for fitness into a lucrative career, go ahead and enquire about our Personal Training Diploma or download the full OriGym course prospectus here.

Pre-Run Stretches for Runners (dynamic stretches)

If you’re new to running, you may be wondering, ‘should I stretch before running?’ The short answer is, yes!

When it comes to stretching before running, the main thing is to ensure that it is dynamic. Dynamic stretches are controlled, active movements that help prepare the relevant muscles for the exercise you are about to do.

Studies such as this one have shown that compared to static stretches, dynamic stretches are the best kind of stretches to do before any kind of workout. 

Read more about the benefits of dynamic stretching here

So, what are the best stretches to do before running? Try out these 5 exercises before running to warm up your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and hip muscles.

1. Standing side leg raises 

First up is one of the best stretches for runners as it targets all the key leg and core muscles in one simple movement! 

How to do it: 

  • Stand up straight with your toes facing forwards (you can also rest your hands on a chair, wall or other surface to help you balance).
  • Shift your weight to your left foot.
  • Inhale and slowly lift your right leg up out to the side with the foot flexed.
  • Exhale and lower your foot back to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10-12 times then switch to the other leg.

Muscles targeted: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and adductors

Common mistakes to avoid

Moving too quickly: Don’t just use momentum to swing your leg up quickly! Whilst stretches before running should be dynamic, they should equally be slow and controlled in order to benefit the target muscles. 

Not engaging your core: Although this is primarily a good hamstring stretch for runners, don’t forget to engage your abdominal muscles. This will help keep you stay straight and balanced.

2. Hamstring scoop

As the name suggests, this pre-run stretch is all about the hamstrings! These muscles are often prone to injury particularly for beginners, so it is one of the most important stretches for runners. 

How to do it:

  • Stand with your feet hip width apart.
  • Shift your weight into the left foot and extend your right leg slightly in front of you. Place your right heel on the floor and flex the heel flexed.
  • Inhale. As you exhale, bring both arms down towards your right foot in a sweeping motion, hinging slightly at the hips and bending the left knee.
  • Scoop the arms down and back up towards you.
  • Repeat 10-12 times then switch to the other leg.

Muscles targeted: hamstrings

Common mistakes

Arching your back: Try to keep your back straight as you bend down by engaging your core and keeping a neutral pelvis.

Not flexing your foot: Keeping your front foot flexed makes sure that your hamstrings are engaged. This is one of the best hamstring stretches for runners, so make sure that you can feel it!

Moving too quickly: The movement should be slow and controlled so that you can really feel the stretch in your hamstrings.

3. Stretch Kick

The stretch kick can be hard to master. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll soon be feeling the benefit from this amazing pre-running stretch! 

How to do it:

  • Stand with your feet hip width apart and your toes facing forwards.
  • Moving from the hip, lift your left leg high in front of you with your feet flexed.
  • Reach and touch your left foot with your right hand.
  • Lower your leg back down and switch sides.
  • Repeat 10-12 times on each leg.  

Muscles targeted: glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors

Common mistakes

Not keeping your back straight: Your upper back may naturally hunch over, but try to keep your core engaged during the movement to ensure that you are stretching the target muscles.

Using momentum to lift the leg up: To get the most out of this thigh stretch for runners, make sure to engage your lower abdominals and hip flexors, rather than just swinging your leg up quickly.

4. Moving low lunge

If you’re wondering, ‘what are the best stretches to do before running?’, this moving low lunge is an essentiel one to add into your routine. It targets all the key muscles, making it such a good stretch for runners of all abilities. 

How to do it:

  • Start standing up straight with your feet together and toes facing forwards.
  • Step your left leg back into a lunge and drop the knee to the ground.
  • Place your hands-on top of your right thigh. Inhale.
  • As you exhale, lean forwards. You should feel a stretch in your left hip flexor and thigh muscles. 
  • Repeat 10-12 times then switch to the other leg.

Muscles targeted: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and adductors

Common Mistakes

Not keeping your front foot directly above your ankle: When you lean forwards into the stretch, make sure that your front knee doesn’t go beyond your ankle. This means that you are really targeting your quads, making it such a good stretch for runners.

Not protecting your knees: The knees are sensitive joints, so make sure to practice this particular groin stretch for runners on a mat or soft surface. You can even place a towel or cushion under your knee for extra protection. If you suffer with sensitive or painful knees, check out Origym’s list of the best knee compression sleeves

Not keeping your hips square: Make sure that your left and right hip joints are parallel and both facing forwards. Engaging your core and keeping a neutral pelvis can help with this.

5. Calf raises

This is arguably one of the most basic stretches for runners, but also one of the most effective! 

Your calf muscles play a huge part in running, so why not check out Origym’s best calf exercises to help build those calves!  

How to do it:

  • Stand with your feet hip distance apart and your toes facing forwards.
  • Put your weight into the balls of your feet and raise your heels (both feet at a time).
  • Slowly lower your heels back down again.
  • Repeat 10-20 times.

Muscles targeted: gastrocnemius and soleus

Common Mistakes

Locking your knees: You should keep your knees extended when you raise your heels, but be careful not to lock them out completely.

Not lifting your heels high enough: This is arguably one of the most important stretches for runners as the calves are often prone to injury from running. Make sure that you lift your heels as high as you can in order to really feel the stretch in your calves!

Not engaging your core: Although this pre-running stretch targets the calves, it is important to keep your back straight and your pelvis neutral. Not sure if you’re doing it right? Our article on how to engage your core will help you target your core muscles. 

Want to find out more ways to improve your running performance? Check out these articles below:

Post-Run Stretches for Runners (static stretches)

It can be easy to just jump straight in the shower after a run and get on with your day, but the importance of stretching after a run cannot be underestimated! 

Just taking as little as 5-10 minutes to do these simple stretches for runners can make a world of difference to your muscle recovery, flexibility and mobility, which will all help to reduce the risk of injury. In fact, there are a whole host of benefits of flexibility training that you can read about here 

If you’re wondering what stretches to do after running, these 5 exercises are a great place to start!

6. Standing quad stretch for runners 

This exercise is an essential outer and inner thigh stretch for runners. Plus, it is easy to do!

How to do it:

  • Stand with your feet hip distance apart and your toes facing forwards.
  • Lift your left leg and bend your left knee.
  • Bring your heel back behind you towards your glutes and hold your ankle with your left hand.
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds before switching legs.

Muscles targeted: quadriceps

Common Mistakes

Losing balance: This is a great stretch for beginner runners, so don’t worry if you find yourself losing balance! To avoid falling over, simply hold onto a chair, wall or other surface with your free hand. This allows you to focus completely on getting the most out of this outer and inner thigh stretch for runners.

Locking your knee: Try not to lock your standing knee; keep the leg straight but with a very slight bend in the knee.

Arching your back: Ensure that your spine stays straight during this after-run stretch. To do this, engage your abdominal muscles, tuck your glutes in and keep your pelvis in a neutral position. As well as protecting your spine, there are many other benefits of good posture which you can find out here

7. Straight leg calf stretch for runners

Using a prop like a wall is a great way to get more out of your post-run stretching. Try this calf stretch for runners and see for yourself! 

How to do it:

  • Stand facing a wall and put your hands on the wall at about eye level.
  • Step your left leg back behind you and straighten it by pressing your heel into the ground.
  • Bend your right leg and lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in the back of your left leg.
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat 2-4 times for each leg.

Muscles targeted: gastrocnemius and soleus

Common Mistakes

Lifting your back heel: In order to get the most out of this post-run stretch, ensure that your back heel is firmly rooted into the ground.

Arching your back: Ensure that your spine stays straight during this after-run stretch. To do this, engage your abdominal muscles and try to keep your pelvis in a neutral position.

8. Standing lateral lunge

When it comes to stretchies for after running, the standing lateral lunge has it all. Not only does it target the glutes and hamstrings, but it is also an amazing inner thigh stretch for runners! 

How to do it: 

  • Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes facing forwards.
  • Inhale. As you exhale, take a big step out to the side so your feet are as wide as possible.
  • Engage through your right heel and bend your right knee to 90 degrees.
  • Keep your left leg straight, the heel down and toes facing forwards.
  • Push through your right leg to return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 8-12 times on each leg.

Muscles targeted: quadriceps, glutes, adductors, hamstrings

Common Mistakes 

Hinging from the hips: Rather than hinging at the hips, make sure that you are sitting back into a squat-like position. This engages the quads and glutes, and is what makes it such a great groin stretch for runners! 

Allowing the heels to lift up: Make sure that both heels are planted firmly into the floor. Wearing flat-soled shoes or even doing it barefoot can help with this.

Arching your back: Although this is an inner thigh stretch for runners, don’t forget about your core! Ensure that your spine stays straight by engaging your abdominal muscles and keeping your pelvis in a neutral position.

Not having your feet wide enough apart: Having your feet as wide apart as possible is what makes this such a good groin stretch for runners, so make sure that your stance isn’t too short. 

9. Standing crossed leg hamstring stretch for runners 

This exercise takes one of the most basic stretches for runners- the hamstring stretch, and takes it to the next level. Simply crossing your legs over each other makes this one of the best hamstring stretches for runners out there!

How to do it:

  • Stand up straight and cross one leg over the over, with both toes facing forwards and the outside edges of both feet touching each other. You can hold onto a chair, wall or other solid surface for stability if you need.
  • Inhale and slowly bend over by hinging at the hips as you exhale. Aim to bring the torso towards the legs and touch your toes. You can bend your knees slightly if your hamstrings are particularly tight.
  • Each time you exhale, lean a little deeper into the stretch.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds.
  • Slowly stand back up.
  • Switch your legs around and repeat for the other leg.

Muscles targeted: hamstrings 

Common Mistakes

Bending your knees: Whilst you should be careful not to over-stretch, keep your knees as straight as possible. This is what makes it one of the best hamstring stretches for runners.

Lifting your heels or toes: Make sure that both of your feet are flat on the ground when performing this running stretch in order to really target the hamstrings. 

10. Hip Abductor and ITB stretch for runners

If you’re wondering, ‘what stretches to do after running?’, this one should definitely be a key part of your post-run stretching routine. It’s easy to do and targets a whole host of muscles! 

How to do it:

  • Stand up straight and cross the left leg behind the right.
  • Keep your right arm by your side and raise your left arm high overhead as you inhale.
  • As you exhale, bend towards the right. You should feel a stretch in your left side torso.
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds.
  • As you inhale, lift a little further up. As you exhale, lean further into the stretch.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Muscles targeted: iliotibial band, gluteus medius, gluteus minimums 

Common Mistakes

Twisting at the hips: Try to keep your hips square (facing forwards) rather than turning to one side.

Collapsing your raised arms forwards or backwards: It can be easy to lean forwards or backwards when performing this upper body stretch for runners. Instead, try to keep your body in one flat plane by keeping your pelvis neutral and core engaged. To help, you can think of your body as being between two walls behind and in front of you!  

Deeper Stretches for Runners

The above exercises are great stretches for beginner runners just getting started, or for any standard running routine. 

But if you’re looking for some stretches for long distance runners or simply want to work your muscles a little more, check out these more advanced yet still simple stretches for runners. 

Are you a long-distance runner looking for your next challenge? Why not check out Origym’s complete guide on how to train for a marathon 

11. Kneeling lunge

If you need a deeper thigh stretch for runners, then look no further. Plus, if you choose to reach around and grab your back foot, you’ll feel the benefits even more! 

How to do it:

  • Start by kneeling down on both knees on a soft surface or exercise mat. If you have particularly sensitive knees, you can place a cushion, folded blanket or other soft item under your kneeling knee for extra comfort. There are some great supportive mats out there, as detailed in Origym’s list of the best yoga mats.  
  • Step your right leg forwards and bend the knee 90 degrees. Place your hands on the front of your right thigh for support if you need.
  • Inhale. As you exhale, slowly lean forwards and put your weight into the front leg. You should feel a stretch in your left thigh.
  • If you want to deepen the stretch further, you can reach around and grab your left foot and gently pull your heel towards your glutes.
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds before switching to the other leg.

Muscles targeted: quadriceps, abdominals

Common Mistakes   

Twisting at the hips: Try to keep your hips square and facing forwards, rather than turning to one side.

Not engaging your glutes: Keep the muscles in the glutes engaged in order to get the most out of this thigh stretch for runners.

Not engaging your core: Be careful not to arch your spine. Try to keep your torso straight and your pelvis neutral to avoid putting strain on your lower back. 

12. Piriformis stretch for runners

This is arguably one of the most important stretches for runners. It gives a deep stretch for the glutes, which are vital muscles for running!

How to do it:

  • Lie down on your back with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor, hip distance apart.
  • Pull your left knee up to your chest and cross your right ankle over your left thigh. Your right heel should be resting just below your left knee joint.
  • Reach your hands around the back of your left thigh and gently pull towards you. Keep your left leg at a 90-degree angle and your foot flexed.
  • As you inhale, create space and back off slightly. As you exhale, lean deeper into the stretch. 
  • Hold for 5-20 seconds before switching to the other leg.

Muscles targeted: glutes, erector spinae, hip flexors

Common Mistakes

Not opening the hips enough: Although this is already an advanced stretch for long distance runners, it is important to still make sure that you are doing it with correct form. Pressing your elbow against the bent knee can help you open the hips further, which will allow you to feel a deeper stretch in the glutes. 

13. Standing hamstring stretch using a table

This is another example of using a prop like a table to deepen even the most basic stretches for runners. This is one of the best hamstrings stretches as the support of the table allows you to lean further into the stretch.

How to do it:

  • For this stretch you will need a flat surface about hip height, such as a table, bed, chair, bench or wall.
  • Stand in front of the table with your toes facing towards it.
  • Lift your right leg and the foot on top of the table, with the heel flexed. You may need to adjust your standing leg so that only the heel is resting on the table.
  • Inhale. As you exhale, hinge at the hips and lean forwards. Aim to press your chest towards your knee rather than simply dropping your head down. You can place your hands on your knee or the table in front of you for support if you need.
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds before switching to the other leg.

Muscles targeted: hamstrings

Common Mistakes

Not flexing your foot: Make sure to keep the toes of your lifted leg pointing up towards the ceiling as you perform this post-running stretch.

Rounding your back: Try to keep a straight spine as you move forwards by engaging your core.

Stretching for runners tips 

When it comes to performing these runners stretches, there are some important tips you should remember:

Don’t bounce. This is a very common mistake! Although bouncing when stretching used to be encouraged, it is now outdated advice. You should aim to stretch in a smooth movement, rather than rocking back and forth. This means that the muscles have time to actually feel the benefit of the stretch and allows you to go deeper if you can.   

Remember to stretch both sides of your body. It may seem obvious, but remember to stretch both sides of your body, even when doing the most basic stretches for runners. 

Stop if it’s painful. It is important not to over-stretch your muscles. Although you should feel some tension when stretching, you should back off or stop immediately if you feel any pain. You should also never stretch a muscle that is already injured, unless advised by a doctor or professional. 

Don’t stretch cold muscles. When it comes to stretching before a run- particularly if it is first thing in the morning, a short warm-up can be beneficial. This can be anything from a quick jog on the spot to a brisk walk. This helps to warm up the muscles before they are stretched, which can help prevent over-stretching and injury. 

Remember to breathe. Breathing is a key part of stretching, as it helps to relax the muscles and get the most out of your running stretches. The key is to inhale to create space and exhale as you go deeper into it. Most importantly, never hold your breath! These are the basic principles of pranayama, a yogic breathing exercise which you can read more about here. 

How else can you prevent running injuries? 

As well as stretching before and after running, there are many other things that can help prevent running injuries. 

Wear the right shoes. You may not think it, but wearing proper running shoes can make a world of difference to your performance, as well as preventing injury. Your running shoes should be suitably cushioned and fit your particular foot shape. Need new running shoes? Our list of the best cushioned running shoes is a great place to start. 

Ease into it. Most running injuries occur by doing too much, too soon. If you are new to running, start with small distances and work up to longer runs. The stretches in this article are great stretches for beginner runners!  

Strength training. Running is a full-body exercise, so strengthening your legs, glutes, core and upper body can help reduce the impact on your joints. Less impact on your joints means less chance of injury! As well as practicing these stretching exercises for runners, incorporating strength training into your routine is hugely beneficial.

Run with proper form. Working on your running form is a simple yet effective way to reduce injury as well as improving your performance. Running with proper form helps to reduce the impact on your joints and makes sure that your muscles are moving in the right way. Want to know more about running form? Check out Origym’s tips to improve your running technique

Before you go!

Whether you’ve been wondering what stretches to do before running or how to stretch after running, we hope that you now have all you need to know!

So, which pre and post-run stretches will you be adding into your running routine?

Whilst you’re here, why not check out OriGym’s range of personal trainer qualifications or find out more about our Level 3 Sports Massage Course here.

Don’t forget to download your free prospectus!  

References 

Curry, Brad S; Chengkalath, Devendra; Crouch, Gordon J; Romance, Michelle; Manns, Patricia J. Acute Effects of Dynamic Stretching, Static Stretching, and Light Aerobic Activity on Muscular Performance in Women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2009. Volume 23. Issue 6. 

Written by Alice Williams

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Alice is a freelance content writer at OriGym. With a first-class degree in French and Linguistics, she loves all things language, fitness and culture. As part of her degree, she spent a year living in France where she worked for a lifestyle blog, gaining professional experience in both translation and content writing. 

When she’s not writing, you can usually find Alice practicing yoga and she hopes to one day become a yoga instructor herself. She also loves running, tennis and cooking up a vegan storm in the kitchen! It was this passion for health and fitness, combined with her love for writing, that brought Alice to OriGym.

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