If there’s one thing you need to know about stretching before and after a run, it’s this: Do it.
Whether you’re jogging on trails or on the road or trotting along on the treadmill, running is physically demanding on your body. The repetitive motion of moving your body forward requires strength and coordination. Each step you take requires your quads, hamstrings, calves and hips to extend and flex repeatedly, which, over time, causes tightness and imbalances, paving the way for overuse injuries.
That’s why safely stretching these muscles before and after each run is necessary. Experts agree that you should avoid static stretches before your workout because cold muscles are tight muscles and you’re likely to cause a strain or worse. Pre-run stretches should consist of dynamic stretching, which involves light movement through an increasing range of motion. Focus on the major muscle groups you’ll be using — quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors and calves. Perform these five moves before you pound the pavement to warm up joints and muscles and to help prevent injury.
1. Ankle Rotation
Runners tend to focus on hamstrings and quads, but the ankles take a beating, too. To keep them flexible, sit on the floor with your legs apart and grab one ankle with both hands and rotate it clockwise and counterclockwise through a complete range of motion. This helps gently stretch tight ligaments. Repeat 10 to 20 times in each direction. Switch ankles.
2. Calf Raises
Every time your foot leaves the ground when you run, your calf muscles contract. Give them some love with simple calf raises. Stand on a step so the balls of your feet are on the stair and your heels are hanging over the edge. Rise up on your toes, then slowly lower your heels so they come below the step, giving you a gentle stretch through the calf muscle. Pause, then rise up and repeat. Do 10 to 15 reps. You also can peform these one calf at a time.
3. Walking Lunges
Lunges involve a lot of hip flexion, which warms up the exact muscles you’ll be using while running. Take a large step forward with your right leg and bend at the knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor and your knee is in line with your ankle. Push up, and walk your left leg forward to meet your right and then step forward with the left. To engage the glutes more, take bigger steps. To focus more on your quads, use shorter lunges. Do 20 lunges (10 per side).
4. Hip Flexor and Glute-Activating Swing
If you suffer from hip flexor tightness, this stretch helps improve hip mobility. Hold on to a steady object, stand on your right leg and swing your left leg forward and back. Repeat this 20 times, then switch sides and do 20 on the right leg. Each swing should build until your leg reaches its full range of motion.
5. Hip Abductor and Adductor Leg Swing
Hold on to a steady object, stand on your right leg and swing your left leg across the right leg and then out to the side. Do 20 swings before switching to the right leg. Keep your chest upright and your core tight. Each swing should build until it reaches its full range of motion.