Running stretches are a very important thing to do before you go on any run and definitely before running a race. Other things are just as important, like having the right pair of running shoes, running with good form, and having a good warm-up run. When we used to meet up for practice on the trail at 6AM during the summer, before we started running our workout on the trail, we would start everything out with a good-paced warm-up lap, which consisted of running a perimeter around our baseball fields behind the gym which was about 1,000 meters. The warm-up run was not meant to be so fast that it affected our actual run, but fast enough to start to break a sweat and warm enough to loosen our muscles and relieve any tension, which is what you really want to do.
With your muscles loose, stretching will be a lot easier, and will benefit you in many ways. Stretching before running is definitely important: first of all, as a preventative measure. Runners pull muscles all the time by not properly stretching. Keeping your muscles loose and stretched will also help in keeping your form while on a run or race, which will provide your body a better range of motion and longer strides to help you run faster. Your body won’t be tight and allow you to really focus on running rather than form.
After a quick water break, we would gather around in a circle and perform our daily running stretches. The following stretches will help you avoid pulling a muscle and allow you to have the best run possible. I have provided example videos of these exact stretches (or equivalent) to help as a visual aid.
Note: All running stretches should be performed for about 10 seconds or so.
- Stand upright and try to reach the back of your left shoulder with your right hand. Use your left hand to help push your right hand farther back. Do the same with your other hand/arm.
- Put your right arm in the air and bend it so that your elbow is behind your head. With your left hand behind your head, grab your right elbow with your left hand and pull left. Switch.
- We call this stretch “hang”. Standing upright, simply bend over forward and let your arms hang down. Your knees do not have to lock, but make sure to keep your legs straight. If you have never done this stretch before, you probably won’t get close enough to touch your toes. But if you hang long enough, you will get closer (and by doing this stretch more often, you will become a lot more flexible). Repeat with your right leg over your left leg and then with your left leg over your right leg.
- We call these stretches “Flamingos”. Standing upright, bend your right leg back and hold your right ankle with your hand. To help maintain your balance, find a nearby wall or a running partner, or grab your ear with your free hand to counterbalance. Repeat with your other leg.
- We call these stretches “Squats”. Stand with your legs apart and bend down, as if you were performing a squat. Place both palms down on the floor and use your elbows to stretch your legs outward. You will definitely feel the burn.
- We call these stretches “Butterflies”. Sit on your butt and place the soles of your feet together, so that they are touching and stick your knees out to the sides. Try to move your feet as close to your groin. Initially, you will not be able to get as close, but will with time. It will also help to try and bend down to touch your nose to your feet too, but definitely more advanced.
Hip & Lower Back Stretches
- We call these stretches “Hurdles”. Position so that you are going to do a butterfly stretch, except straighten your left leg and using both hands, try and touch your left toe. Do the same with your right leg.
- Sit on the ground with your right leg crossed over the left. Grab and hug your right knee, so that you feel the back of your leg (lower butt) stretch. You can also put your left arm over the right knee and twist your body clockwise. While stretching your lower back, you can crack your back as well. Switch to stretch your left leg.
- Get in a push-up position, but place your right foot over your left foot and stick your butt up in the air and flatten your left foot. Depending on how high in the air you stick your butt and how flat your make your foot, you will feel your calf muscle stretch. Make sure you don’t pull your calf muscle this way, but also be sure that you do feel a burn in the first place. Do the same with your left calf.
If you follow these running stretches (more or less in that order), you will help lengthen and strengthen your muscles, allowing a better range of motion for your arms and legs. All this, in turn, helps you perform better and run faster at runs and races, without doing much else.
This is probably not an extensive list of running stretches, but what I learned to do when I first started running. But if done right, you will surely start to see yourself running faster from these stretches. What other stretches do you do before a run?