Running helps to burn calories, promote cardiovascular health as well as tone and strengthen the legs. No matter why you run, stretching should be part of your fitness routine. For the best results, running should be combined with both dynamic and static stretches. While keeping this in mind, here is a list of 6 key stretches for runners.

1. Pre-Workout Stretches

While stretching after a run or workout seems to be more commonly accepted, there is still a lot of debate about whether or not you should stretch before you start your run or workout. And while I don’t recommend static stretches before your routine, dynamic stretches are a great way to warm up and get your body ready for a run or an intense workout.
Dynamic stretches loosen everything up, improve your mobility and get your blood pumping. Make sure to use stretches that focus on the muscles you plan to work!
When you stretch before running, this loosens the muscles and prevents injuries. Fitness experts recommend dynamic stretches (those done in motion) before a running session. The dynamic stretches described below can help you activate all your leg muscles.

The Walking Lunge Stretch

This is a great stretching exercise if you want to hit all the leg muscles – calves, hamstrings, quads and hips. To perform a walking lunge, begin from a standing position with both hands placed on your hips. Take a step forward with your right leg while lowering the left knee toward the floor. Don’t allow the left knee to touch the floor. Also, avoid bending the knee placed in front of you past your big toe. Push your weight up from the right heel and step back into the standing position. Perform another lunge with the left leg and keep alternating to complete several repetitions.

Here’s a video from Mike Donavanik demonstrating walking lunges on a treadmill:

The Hip Circles Stretch

Extensions from the hips help generate the forward force that is required when running. Therefore, it is important to open up muscles at this joint before hitting the pavement or treadmill. A few minutes of hip circles would help to achieve this goal. For this stretching routine, stand with feet slightly spread and hands placed on the hips. Rotate the hips in a circular pattern continuously. Count each complete rotation as one rep. Aim for 30-60 repetitions to complete one set. Switch the direction of rotations to begin another set.

Hip circles are great warm-up exercises and stretches for runners to use to activate their glutes before a run. In this hip circle warm-up drill video from James Dunne, he shares one of his favorite glute warm-up drills.

The Calf-Raises Stretch

Your calves bear a lot of brunt when running. Muscles in this area of the leg contract every time your foot leaves the ground. To give these muscles a pre-run preparation, some simple dynamic calf stretches will do the trick. For this standing exercise, the torso remains upright and feet close together or spread hip-width apart. Simply rise up on your toes and hold the stretch for a moment. Place the feet flat on the ground and repeat the calf raise again. You can hold onto a wall for balance during this routine.

In this video from Blogilates, Pilates Instructor Casey Ho will put you through a though lower body workout that will sculpt your thighs, but can also be used as a warm-up stretch for runners:

2. Post Workout Stretches

Stretching after a run is recommended as well in order to relax hardworking muscles that develop imbalances and tension from repetitive motion. Static stretches can help you relax tight muscles after a run. Here are a few options you might want to try.

The Kneeling Hamstring Stretch and Hip Flexor Stretch

Get down on one knee so that the other leg will be in front of you with the thigh being perpendicular to the shin. While maintaining a straight back, use the foot planted on the ground to press forward while keeping the knee that is on the ground in place. Hold this position for 10-30 seconds then switch to the other leg.

Here’s a short video demonstration of a kneeling toe-up hamstring stretch by the stretching institute. Watch this stretch video to improve your hamstring flexibility and relieve tight hamstrings and lower back muscles:

The Standing Quad Stretch

While standing with feet close together, bend your right knee by bringing the heel towards the glutes. Use your right hand to grasp the bent leg and hold this position for 10-30 seconds. Repeat the same stretch for the other leg. If maintaining balance while standing on one foot is a problem, hold onto a wall using the free hand for support.

Stretching the quads, or quadriceps, is important to warm up the large muscles of the thigh before exercise or sports, as well as for cool down after your running or exercise workout. Learn how to do the standing quad stretch exercises in this stretching and flexibility video demonstration from Livestrong.com

The Calf Stretch

Face a wall standing at about arm’s length. Stretch out both hands in front of you at chest level. Take a step forward to place the ball of your left foot up against the floor molding at the base of the wall. This will leave the heel of your left foot touching the floor. Lean forward and gently toward the wall to stretch the calf on your right leg without bending the knee. Hold this position for about 10-30 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.

Here’s a video demonstration on how to do the calf stretch to relieve tightness. In this video from BuiltLean, you will learn how to measure and improve your calf flexibility to properly stretch and relieve tightness in your calves. Improving the flexibility of your calves is so important because it will help your squat form and running form.

Stretching before and after running workouts provides many benefits, which range from warming up the muscles and preventing injuries, to reducing stiffness and lessening delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). So, make sure to add the stretching exercises described above into your running routine.

The above stretches are key stretches for runners. However, for a broader choice in dynamic stretching exercises, or just to change your stretching routine and variation, you can check out the video below from Redefining Strength, where they demonstrate 21 Dynamic Stretching Warm Up Exercises:

Feel free to try other stretching routines other than those mentioned above. Remember to choose routines that stretch muscles used during walking in order to reap the most benefits.

Why everyone should stretch regularlyAnd if you want more information on stretching and why it is so important, we published an ebook “Stretching For Everyone” that you might want to download. In this ebook you will find information on how to help prevent injuries, and it’s FREE to download. For more information on the content of the eBook, you can click the book cover, or go read what is covered in the book here:

Why Everyone Should Stretch Regularly