How to Stretch Before a Run: Complete Guide
Many people use running as a form of exercise, while others just plain enjoy running, and make it a part of their everyday life. I am willing to bet that not all runners consider their warmup and stretching as an important part of their routine.
Stretching plays a valuable role in your muscles, warming them before stretching will prevent the muscles from tearing. You can warm them up by jogging for 5-10 minutes or doing a light cardio activity of your choice. After you have warmed up your muscles, this is when you will want to start your stretching routine.
Be sure your stretching routine will cover the muscles you will use the most. For example, runners tend to use their glutes, quads, calf, and hamstring muscles the most. You should also include some stretches to warm up your abdominal and back muscles as well. As these muscles also play a vital role in your running success.
This guide is intended to provide you with information about stretching, along with some good stretches to use after your warmup. For those who are just starting to include stretching into their routine, this guide can point you in the right direction to improve your muscle performance.
This is the most popular type of pre-run stretching amongst the running community. That is because dynamic stretching better prepares your muscles for the workout and lies ahead during your run. Dynamic stretches are known for improving blood circulation within the muscles, and for loosening your joints. A good dynamic stretching routine will not only work your muscle, it should also include running your joints through their maximum motion range.
Static stretching is a preferred method for after running, as these stretches performed after a run can help relax and restore your muscles. Studies have shown that doing static stretches before your run offer your muscles little to no benefits at all. A good static stretch will stretch your muscle to its longest point. This is where you will want to hold for 15-30 seconds each stretch.
Whichever type of stretching you plan to use, you should pick 5-8 stretches that will work the muscle groups that you will use for running. This routine should generally be able to be done rather quickly, taking roughly 8-10 minutes to perform.
In the next section of the guide, you will gain knowledge of some possible stretches to use for your routine. Here you will find examples of both dynamic and static stretches. You will want to select the stretches that best suit your needs.
Walking Lunges: Walking lunges are not only great for warming up your quad muscles, they actually work well for the muscles in your hip area as well. Some trainers have said that walking lunges promote the forward movement you will use for running, making them a great toll for warm-ups.
Directions for Walking Lunges: Start with your feet together, then with your right foot, take a step forward. Be sure that when taking this step forward, you use a long stride. With your right knee, this should be the knee in front, bend until you have come to roughly 90 degrees. Make sure that your left knee is bent, nearly touching the ground. Hold that pose for just a couple seconds, then attempt to make your back leg straight. You should feel some stretching in the thigh of your back leg. Come up after this, now you will want to do this again, only this time make your left leg the front leg. It is best to do this, alternating leading legs, at least 10 times.
Kneeling Hip Flexor: Performing hip flexor stretches will help relax your muscles surrounding your hips. In turn, providing a better range of motion to your hips in general. These are especially important to people who spend a lot of time sitting, either at work or home. Sitting causes your hip muscles to be in a flexing state, hip flexor stretches can help combat that issue.
Directions for Kneeling Hip Flexor: This stretch starts like that of the lunge, take a step forward, make sure your knee in the front is bent to 90 degrees. Start making the back leg go straight, stop when you feel the thigh of the back leg start to stretch. Move your arms to a position above your head and pause there for several seconds. Continue this with the same leg in front for 5 reps, then switch using the opposing leg as the front leg. As you go forward you should raise your arms above your head, always making sure that your knee in front stays behind your foot. Lower your arms as you begin to straighten and come to the standing position.
Around-the-World Lunges: Doing lunges in all different directions will help you warm all the major muscle groups in your legs that you use to run. Doing this will also help to open up your range of motion in your hips. Around-the-World lunges actually consist of a combination of lunges performed to make one rep.
Directions for Around-the-World Lunges: You will want to start out with your feet together, from this position you can perform a forward lunge. Then return yourself to your starting position, the next lunge will be sideways to the right, then back to your start again. Now you will lunge moving backward, and again back to your starting position. Your last lunge will be sideways off to the left, once back in the starting position you have completed one rep. It is recommended to do 5 reps, then switch and perform the 5 reps again using the opposing leg to lunge. Be sure to hold each lunge position for a few seconds before returning to your starting position.
Calf Raises: When doing warm-up stretches, calf muscles sometimes get overlooked. When in fact they play a very important role in your running, with each lift of your foot, your calf muscles are hard at work.
Directions for Calf Raises: These are typically done by standing on the very edge of a step. Leaving your heels to hang over the edge of the step, you may want to consider using a set of stairs with a rail, so you can hold onto the rail for balance. First, you will raise yourself up to the tiptoe position, now you want to start to drop your heels far enough to feel your calf muscle start to stretch. Hold that position for a brief moment, then repeat the process for a total of ten reps.
Quad Pulls: Quad pulls are really great for giving your quads a hefty warmup. This tip comes from a trainer, be sure to make your stopping point when you start to feel the pull in the muscle. Stretching further than that will only cause you pain and possibly damaging muscles.
Directions for Quad Pulls: Your going to want to stand with your feet about the distance of your shoulders apart, at this point your toes should be facing forward. Lift one leg, toward your buttocks, while lifting the leg reach behind you with the opposite hand. You are looking to get ahold of your ankle at this point. Lift your ankle toward your buttocks, just until you feel slight pulling on your muscle. Hold this spot for a few seconds, then let go of the ankle so you can lower your leg. Switch legs and hand to repeat the process. These are normally done in sets of 10-15 for each leg, always making sure to keep your midsection straight during the stretching.
Leg Swings: This stretch tends to work for three muscle groups at once. Those groups consist of your hamstrings, quads, and glute muscles. Some versions of the leg swing stretch are also known for working different functions of the hip, that normal stretching doesn’t work on.
Directions for Leg Swings: For doing leg swings, you will want to stand with a handrail next to you. If you don’t have a handrail to use, some people have been known to use a chair, without changing the results of the stretch. Grab the handrail with the hand closest to it, using the leg closest to the rail as well, bring your leg forward until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstring. All the while keeping a slight bend in your stationary leg. When bringing your leg down, continue the stroke in the backward direction just until you feel a stretch to your quad. This is typically done for 10-15 reps per leg, increasing the swing distance with each rep.
Power Skipping: Power skipping covers one of the widest varieties for stretching your muscles. This is done because of the types of arm and leg movement you are doing. The movement done in your arms will work both your arms and shoulders. The leg movements tend to work a few extra muscles as well such as your core, hips, hamstrings, and calf muscles.
Directions for Power Skipping: Start by lifting one arm and the opposite knee, lift them as high as you can. (Use the motion of skipping that we all learned as kids.) You will know if you have done this correctly if you feel like your floating with each skipping movement. On your way down, repeat with the opposite knee and arm. This style stretching works best if you work on the height of your motion, rather than how far you go.
Tips for Proper Static Stretching
- It is best to do your stretching while your muscles are warm. This raises your level of flexibility and adds your motion range.
- Choose a stretching routine that will provide benefits to the muscles that you were just working.
- It is best while stretching to hold your stretch for a short period of time. Holding your stretch for 10-20 seconds will allow that tight muscle feel to slowly dissipate. Repeat each stretch of your routine 2-3 times per stretch.
- Breathing is key for muscle recovery, so be sure to keep even breathing while doing your stretches. Make slow movements during your stretch, this will prevent any from taking place during your routine. Stop your stretch right away if you feel any pain, this could possibly be a sign of damage to your muscle.
Types of Static Stretches
Stretching the Upper and Lower Body: This one can be done while sitting or in the upright position, lifting your arms above your head, interlace your fingers once above your head. Keep an arch in your back while performing this stretch.
Stretching the Triceps: Place one arm behind your head, stretch your arm as far down your back as you can do comfortably. Using your other hand, take hold of your elbow, pull the elbow using a small amount of force until you reach the back of your head. Repeat these steps, this time switching arms to stretch the opposite side.
Stretching the Lower Back: For this stretch, you will need to be laying flat on your back. Place the bottom of your right foot onto your thigh, using your left hand grab your right knee, and slowly roll toward your left side. At this point, you are trying to get the right knee as close to the ground as you can. Always keeping your right shoulder in place on the ground, if it does come up, move your knee back slightly so the shoulder will drop back to the ground.
Stretching the Groin: There are two stretches you can do to stretch the groin area. The first one you will need to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes facing forward. Slowly shift your weight to your right leg, by keeping your left leg straight, while starting to bend the knee on the right. Where you start your feet will affect the distance of the stretch, if you feel you need a further stretch, simply give your feet a wider distance at the starting point.
The second groin stretch, you will need to sit, placing the bottoms of your feet together. With your hands, grab your ankles, placing your elbows on your knees. Apply pressure to your knees, using your elbows, just to the point that you start to feel the stretch.
Stretching the Quads: You may want to do this stretch next to a chair or wall if you need assistance for balancing. Start with whatever leg you would like, lift it backward like your going to kick yourself in the rear. Take hold of your ankle and slowly lift toward your buttocks, stop when you start to feel the stretch. Lower your leg and repeat the process with the opposite leg.
Stretching the Hamstrings: Sitting on the floor, leave your legs stretched out, be sure your back is straight. Lift your left leg, putting your foot flat on the ground, now stretch to your toes on your right foot with two hands. Use your hips to bend not your back, repeat the steps for stretching to the left side.
Stretching the Calf Muscles: Stand in front of a wall with your feet spread apart, be sure that you are within arm’s distance from the wall. Step out slightly with your right foot, bend your right knee so that you start leaning into the wall. At this point, you will need to be sure that your heels remain flat to the ground, and your left leg is as straight as you can get it. Return to your starting position, this will allow you to switch legs to stretch the left calf muscle.
As a recap, remember that stretching is best while your muscles are already warm. This can be done by jogging or doing light cardio for roughly 10 minutes. Dynamic stretching has the most benefits for stretching before a run. Choose the dynamic stretches that will best suit your needs for the muscles you intend to use.
Static stretches are better for after activity, as they aid in muscle recovery. Be sure to keep even breathing during static stretching, oxygen is a huge factor in muscle recovery. Once again choose static stretches that will benefit the muscle groups you just finished using.
After going over this guide, it is my hope that you have gained the knowledge you intended. This should help you choose the stretches necessary to improve your flexibility and range of motion. Hopefully, this gives you the advantage for your next run.
- www.wonderopolis.org, Why Do Athletes Stretch Before They Workout?
- www.livestrong.com, The Importance of Stretching Before Running
- www.runnersworld.com, Five Exercises To Do Before Every Run
- www.sport-fitness-advisor.com, Static Stretching Exercises & Flexibility Program
- www.livestrong.com, The 8 Best Stretches to Do Before Running