16 essential stretches for runners

Running Mar 29, 2021

Disclaimer: No content in this blog should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified professional. If something is hurting you, seek medical attention first.

As runners, it can be very easy to ignore stretching as part of a running routine; why waste time stretching when you can just get going on your run? While stretching feels very unimportant, taking care of your body is a crucial part of being a runner and stretching (even for short periods of time) can help ensure that you can continue training. That 10 minutes that you spend stretching before you run can go a long way towards your training, especially if it prevents a months or even years long injury.

At StayRunning, we want to help you maintain a consistent running lifestyle, and that starts with stretching. Here is a list of 16 stretches that are essential to runners, so that you can stay healthy and Stayrunning.

#1. Quad stretch: Quad stretch can be good for you if you are planning to run up and down hills, as those muscle groups are engaged during hill climbing/descending. To do quad stretch, stand on one foot and bend the leg that is not used for balancing all the way up to your glutes, using your hand to keep your foot in place. Hold this stretch for at least 10 seconds, and do it for both legs.

#2. Calf stretch: Some of the most common sources of pain and soreness for runners come from tight calves, and in order to prevent calf soreness, you should stretch out your calves before you go on a run. To do calf stretch, prop one foot on a wall or another vertical surface, extend your other foot backwards and lean forward on your front foot until you can feel a stretch in the lower part of your back foot.

#3. Touch your toes: Having tight hamstrings is a common problem for runners, and it can become a problem if you have weakness in other muscle groups (such as your glutes), as your hamstrings can pull on those muscles and cause them to become tight as well. In order to prevent tight hamstrings, you can do hamstring stretch, more commonly known as "touch your toes." In order to this stretch, drop your back with your hands stretched out to touch your toes, and keep your knees straight.

#4. Downward dog: Your calves often get really tight when you first start running - or if you’re going up really steep hills and this stretch is really great for your calves and hamstrings. To do it, get onto your hands and knees, straighten your legs and back, and lift your butt up as high as you can.

#5. Butterfly Stretch: Your groin area can get pretty tight during the run, and doing the butterfly stretch can help alleviate some of the tightness. In order to this stretch, sit down on the ground and bench your knees inward so that your feet are touching and touch your toes with your hands. You should feel the stretch in your groin area and your hips. If you want to get an extra stretch, you can lean forward, or "flap your wings" by moving your thighs up and down.

#6. Standing IT band stretch: IT band tightness can cause a whole bunch of knee-related injuries, so it's important to stretch out your IT band before you go on your run. In order to stretch your IT band, you can do a standing IT band stretch by crossing your right foot over your left and bending your back over with your hands stretched to touch your toes. Hold that stretch for around 30 seconds, then switch feet.

#7. Hip flexor stretch: The hip flexors are essential for running, as they are activated every time you stride forward, and you can make sure you can stay running by taking care of your hip flexors and doing this hip flexor stretch. In order to do the stretch, kneel on one knee and bend the other knee backwards, moving forward so that you feel a stretch in your hips.

#8.  Hamstring stretch: (seated version): As stated before, having healthy hamstrings is an important part of being a healthy and active runner, and this stretch can help prevent hamstring tightness. To do this stretch, sit down with one leg extended and the other leg bent inward towards your thigh, and reach with the  hands to touch your the toes of your extended foot. Hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds, and then switch legs.

#9. Leg swings: Leg swings are a great way to get ready to run, as they activate your hips and get your legs moving. In order to do leg swings, find a piece of support that you can lean your hand against (a wall, a fence, a tree, etc.) and then lean one hand against the piece of support. Make sure that you are balanced and you have enough space to swing your legs, then start swinging the leg that is opposite your support hand. The swinging motion should be like a pendulum; you swing your leg forward up to your hips and then backward past your glutes. You should do at least 10 swings on each side, and you should make sure that you are balanced and are not rocking back and forth with your back.

#10. Open the gate, close the gate: Opening the gate and closing the gate is a hip activation exercise that really opens up your hips and allows you to "unlock" more mobility. For runners, this is especially important, as the hips can get really tight from just running in a straight line for a long time. In order to do this stretch, lift one knee up and across your body to hip height, then turn your hip to move your lifted knee to the outside until you can't turn your hip anymore. This is the "opening the gate" part of the stretch. In order to "close the gate" reverse the "opening the gate" motion, bringing your lifted knee in towards your hip and rotating your hip in the opposite direction. Do this exercise while walking forward after each opening/closing and do 10 openings and 10 closings for each leg.

#11. Knee Hugs: Knee hugs can be a good stretch to get in before a run, especially if you are feeling particularly stiff, as it engages your upper body and your lower body. To do knee hugs, raise your knee up to your chest and "hug it", before lowering it and switching to the other knee. Do 10 knee hugs for each knee and walk forward with each knee hug.

#12. High knees: High knees is a pretty tough dynamic stretch, but it gets the heart pumping because of its intensity, and it also stretches out the glutes. In order to do high knees, stride forward and lift one knee up to your chest, then lower it to lift the other knee. Repeat this process for 30 seconds, making sure to focus on the height of your knee lifts.

#13. Lunges: Lunges can activate multiple different muscles groups at once (glutes, hamstrings, calves), helping to stretch and strengthen them in the process. Doing lunges is pretty simple: lunge forward with one knee and bend the other knee backwards, making sure that the back knee doesn't touch the ground and that the front knee doesn't pass the toes of the same-side foot. Do 10 lunges on each side.

#14. Lunges with a twist: What's the twist? All jokes aside, lunges with a twist is an even better stretch than lunges, as it activates your core and your shoulder muscles, on top of the muscles already activated in lunges. To do lunges with a twist, simply do lunges, except every time you lunge, bring your hands together and twist them together towards one side of your torso and then the other side. Make sure that when you are twisting, you are rotating your entire core, as opposed to just your shoulder.

#15. Karaoke: Karaoke is a good way to get the heart rate up, while opening your hips, before the run. To do karaoke, cross your right foot over your left foot with your arms swaying by your side, then step to the side with your left foot, crossing your right foot behind your left foot and continuing the motion for up to 30 seconds. Make sure to switch sides and do it with your left foot in front of your right foot.

#16. Butt kicks: Butt kicks are a quick and snappy dynamic stretch that can activate both the glutes and the hamstrings, and get the heartrate going. In order to do butt kicks, bend your legs backwards up to your butt, running forward in the process. Do this for about 30 seconds.


“The 10 Most Effective Stretches for Runners.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326799#seated-hamstring.

“Stretches for Trail Running.” Running Stretches: Great Stretches for Running | REI Co-Op, www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/trail-running-stretches.html.

Sara Lindberg, M.Ed. “Warm-Up Your Hips With the Gate Opener Exercise.” Verywell Fit, www.verywellfit.com/gate-opener-exercise-4689571.

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