We enlisted the help of Olympic Triathlete Nicole van der Kaay to share with you the best stretches for runners. Follow along as she guides you through a post-run stretching routine to help your muscles cool down and recover.
Running stretches are an essential part of your daily training program. Not only do they maintain the health and longevity of your muscles, but also help to prevent injuries and can improve your running performance.
Why is stretching important for runners?
When you exercise, your muscles shorten and tighten up. Over time, stiff muscles become weak and more resistant to exercise. They lose their flexibility and as a result, your joints suffer and your risk of injury goes up. Stretching after running helps to relieve stiff muscles and keeps them flexible, strong and healthy.
If the end of your run is the end of your workout, you're missing out on a crucial way to improve your flexibility and performance. Adding a few post-run stretches to your workout is a great way to reduce injury while training and prevent lactic acid from building up in your muscles.
Stretching warms and elongates your muscles, increasing the range of motion in your body for safe and comfortable exercise. It also helps to sharpen your mental focus. This can strengthen your body-mind connection and improve your overall running performance.
Stretching can keep your muscles loose and increase the amount of blood flowing to them — which is essential in recovering from your training. Post-run stretches strengthen your flexibility and joint mobility, leading to long, lean, healthy muscles making it the ideal time to stretch.
When and How to Stretch:
One of the great things about adding a stretching routine is that it doesn't have to take a lot of time; even taking just five minutes to stretch at the end of a run can make a noticeable difference in your recovery.
After a run, your stretching routine should target the areas affected by your run — which is basically your entire body. While people often focus on their legs, feet, and lower back, it's important to include your neck, arms, and abs, which also play a role in your training.
Tips for stretching after running:
- Never stretch a cold muscle – you need to get your blood flowing first
- Hold stretches for 30 seconds – this helps to get the most out of them, no more than 30 seconds as this is the optimum time needed for the most benefit
- Don’t hurt yourself – stretching should loosen up your muscles, not be painful
- Stay still when you stretch – bouncing or hopping can cause injury
- Stretch after a shower if your muscles are tight – the hot water can warm the muscle up and help relax muscles after a run
Here are 8 essential post-run stretches plus a few of Nicole’s favourite bonus moves to ensure you start your next run feeling fresh.
Chest, Shoulders, and Arms
Bring your arms behind you clasping your fingers together. Straightening your arms, gently lift your hands up a few inches until you feel the stretch in your chest.
What it Does: Loosens the muscles in your arms and sides, reducing the tension in your upper body as you run.
Shoulders and Sides
Standing with both feet shoulder-width, Put one arm above your head then bend it at the elbow lowering your hand down onto your upper back between your shoulder blades. Place your other hand on top of your elbow and gently pull it in behind your head to increase the stretch. Leaning your body slightly until a stretch along your side is also felt. Switch sides and repeat.
Standing with your feet wide apart and toes pointing outwards, slowly squat down until your knees are directly over your ankles and bent to 90 degrees. Placing hands on top of your inner thighs slowly push outward to open your hips. Twist your torso in one direction until you feel a stretch in your lower back. You’ll also feel it in the groin muscles of both legs. Repeat with the other side.
What it Does: Helps relieve tension in the lower back, minimising the risk of injury when you’re running.
Balancing on one leg and keeping your knees together, pull the other foot up behind you using the same arm. Try to pull that foot as close as you can to your butt. Make sure to keep your hips forward and hold your chest up. Hold and then switch sides.
What it Does: Stretches the quadriceps or anterior thigh muscle.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Begin in a lunge position with hands on your thigh and your torso tall and slightly forward. Drop your back knee down to the ground and hold for a maximum of 30 seconds. Repeat on the other leg, 2-3 times on each leg. This stretch opens up your hip area and relieves tension in your flexors.
What it Does: Stretches the front of the thighs and the groin, helping to keep your pelvis positioned correctly and reduce the risk of lower back pain.
Calf and Achilles Tendon
Stand with both feet side to side, then step one foot forward to stagger them. Bend your back knee and maintain a straight forward leg, then fold down to grab the front foot just beneath your toes. Apply gentle pressure to your toes and pull them towards your leg. Feel the stretch in your calf. Switch to the other leg.
What it Does: Loosens up the calves and Achilles tendons after a run to help prevent stiffness, fatigue and overpronation.
Take a seat on the ground stretching both legs out in front of you. Then cross one leg over the other with your foot next to the knee on the ground. Bring your bent knee towards your chest and slowly twist your upper body, sliding your opposite arm over your bent knee. Gently apply pressure to your thigh to feel a stretch across your glutes and outside your hip. Untwist and repeat on the other side.
What it Does: Helps release tightness in the glutes which work hard to propel runners forward.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and lift one knee up towards your chest. Hold with both hands around your shin and pull the bent leg as close as you can into your chest. Slowly release the and repeat on the other side.
What it Does: Increases flexibility in the hamstrings which is important for overall mobility when running.
Nicole’s Bonus Stretches
Dynamic Hip Flexor and Hamstring Stretch
Standing with feet hip-width apart, take a big step out with one foot into a runner’s lunge position with hands on either side of your foot. Keep your back leg straight and knee lifted. Hold for about 5 seconds before straightening the front leg and bending forward over it. Hold for about 5 seconds before returning to the lunge position. Rotate between the two moves 3 times and switch legs.
Starting on all fours, move one knee toward the opposite wrist and place your shin on the ground. Move your ankle toward your opposite wrist. Slide your other leg back and point your toes, keeping your hips facing forward. Press the ground with your arms extending straight and your back up. Return to the starting position, switch legs and repeat.
Starting on all fours, bend down and walk your hands out in front of you, straighten your legs and try to get your heels to the ground, while you push back with straight arms. Without moving your hands or feet, lift your pelvis as high as possible. Spread your fingers and press your palms down. Keep your wrists in line with your shoulders and your elbows close to your ears. “Walk the dog” by pressing your heels back one at a time.
Downward dog is a great running stretch for your back, all the way down to your hamstrings, calves and ankles.
Adding these stretches to your post-workout regimen can improve your blood flow, reduce muscle soreness, and help protect your muscles from injury. Stretching also gives you time to relax and reflect after your run. Be sure to drink water during your post-run as well. You'll not only rehydrate, but you'll also flush your body of lactic acid, helping your muscles be fresh and ready for your next run.
Learn how to boost your running performance by properly preparing for your run with our guide on How to Warm-Up Before Running.
Stretches for runners is important, so is having the correct running gear. Shop our full collection of running shoes and apparel: