The Best Stretches for Runners
The stretches described here benefit the major muscles in your legs — those that support your shins, thighs, ankles, knees, hips, and buttocks.
Stretching the Hamstring
Your hamstrings are located in the backs of your thighs. When they're too tight, you may experience lower back pain. To stretch them out, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and pointing straight ahead. Start to bend over at the waist, moving your hands together toward your feet. Keep your knees slightly bent as you do this and only go as far down as it takes to feel a minimal tightness.
As you bend down, relax your neck and shoulders and slowly exhale. When you reach the slightly tight point, relax into it and hold for approximately 30 seconds. When the time is up, start straightening back up as you inhale. Move slowly, and allow your head to roll up gently as well. When you're back in the standing position, exhale. Inhale as you begin to bend forward again.
Repeat this stretch 3–5 times. If you do this after every run, you'll notice improvements in your flexibility within a week. Soon you'll be able to reach your knees, then your ankles, and — yes — your toes!
Quadriceps, Knees, and Iliotibial Band
Until you develop the leg strength, you should do this stretch while holding onto or leaning against something for support. To stretch your right quads and iliotibial (IT) band, support yourself with your right hand. Bend your right knee while grabbing your foot with your left hand. With your toes slightly pointed, gently bring your foot toward your buttocks as you exhale. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds. Switch legs.
Repeat until you've stretched both legs 3–4 times. You can also work on improving your balance with this stretch by steadying yourself on the leg you're standing on and removing your hand from the wall or railing.
The quadriceps (quads) and iliotibial band (IT band) support the knees during exercise. Quads are the muscles in the front of your thigh; the IT band runs from your hip to your knee along the outside of your leg. The stronger these muscles are, the better they can support your knees.
The Lower Body All-Over Stretch
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing out slightly. Keeping your feet flat, start to lower yourself into a squat. Exhale. Your knees should be outside of your shoulders but over your big toes. Support yourself with your arms in front of you and between your legs, hands touching the floor (if possible). You may want to do this with your back against a wall for additional support.
When you're squatting, hold the stretch for about 30 seconds. Come up slowly, inhaling as you straighten. Repeat 2–3 times when you're first learning this stretch. As you get better, hold it for a bit longer, and see if you can repeat it 4–5 times.
Stretching the Hips
The hip flexor can help keep you flexible through the hips. Sitting with your legs crossed in front of you, use both arms to take the foot and knee of one leg and stretch them toward you, cradling your leg. Hold for about 30 seconds, and switch legs. Repeat a few times with each leg.
A Simple, Effective Stretching Routine
Stretching is something runners tend to skip, either because they never get into the routine of doing it or they feel they are doing it incorrectly. To avoid being one of these runners, use this simple routine of 4 stretches that can be done in about 10 minutes.
First, stretch out your hamstrings. Lying on your back with your legs extended, bend one leg and bring your knee up toward your chest. Use both hands to hold your leg into your chest. Grasp your leg as far down as you can, making it a goal to be able to grab your foot as you hold the stretch. Hold for approximately 30 seconds, switch legs, and work toward 4–5 repetitions, alternating legs.
The squat stretch is a great stretch for your lower back, ankles, Achilles tendons, shins, and groin. If you spend a lot of time sitting or standing, you'll come to love this stretch. However, if you're a beginner, it can be particularly tough — go easy!
Next you will stretch your hips. Shift from lying down to sitting, and do the hip flexor stretch described previously.
After the hip flex, you will stretch your quadriceps. Move from a sitting to a standing position. Lean against a wall or hold a firm rail for support. Then follow the directions for stretching quadriceps described previously in this chapter.
Finally, you will stretch the Achilles tendon, calf, and IT band. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, lean forward with your hands out against a wall, tree, or rail so that your body is at a forty-five degree angle. Keep both feet flat on the ground. Lean into the stretch, feeling it in the back of your leg and through your ankle.