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 can keep your muscles loose and increase the amount of blood flowing to them — which is essential in recovering from your training. 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 after 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. Here are nine post-run stretches to work your entire body from top to bottom.
Your neck and shoulders can get tight while running, so loosen them up by standing in a neutral position and dropping your chin to your chest. Hold for a few seconds, then roll your neck to the right and the left before returning to a neutral position. Repeat at least five times, then raise your chin upward and hold for several seconds.
Cross-Body Arm Stretch
A flexible upper body improves your running form, so keeping your upper limbs loose is important. While standing, bring one arm across your body at shoulder height, then use your other hand to bring the arm closer to the body. Hold this for 15 to 30 seconds, then switch sides.
To stretch your side abdominal muscles (obliques), stand with your feet hip-width apart and stretch your arms overhead. Grab one wrist and lean back as far as you can, then return to neutral. Repeat the motion to the right, then to the left.
Tightness in your hips can shorten your stride and impede your running performance. A good way to offset that tightness is by doing a skating squat. Stand with your legs hip-width apart and drop into a squat. Shift your weight to one leg and extend the other leg behind you — as if you're ice skating. Return to the squat position and switch legs. Not only is this good for your hip flexors, but it strengthens your glutes, too.
Groin Stretch (Butterfly)
To stretch your groin and inner thighs, sit on the floor with the bottoms of your feet together (your knees should be pointed out toward the walls). Wrap your hands around your feet and slide them as close to your body as possible. Now, keeping your knees on the floor, lean forward. You should feel a stretch in your inner thighs; lean forward as far as you're comfortable. Hold this for at least 30 seconds.
There are many ways to stretch your hamstrings, and this exercise is particularly good if you also have a tight back. Lie on the floor on your back with your legs extended and your arms at your sides. Keeping your lower back on the floor, bend your left knee and keep your right leg extended on the floor. Slowly raise your right leg and pull it toward you. (If this is difficult, you can use a towel or yoga strap to help pull it toward you.) Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then switch legs.
IT Band Stretch
The IT band on the outside of each leg is a common source of pain or tightness for runners. Your IT band runs from your hip to your knee, and you can stretch it by standing with your right leg crossed in front of your left. From that position, lean forward and toward your left; you'll feel a stretch along the right side. To get more from the stretch, raise your right hand and extend it toward your left side. Hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds, then switch legs.
Standing Calf Stretch
Running can tighten up your calves, so loosen them with this popular stretch: Stand about a foot away from the wall and place your hands flat against the wall. Step one leg forward, bending your knee, and extend the other leg behind you, keeping it straight. Lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in the extended leg, then hold it for 30 seconds before switching legs.
Foot and Ankle Stretches
Your feet and ankles can take a beating while you run, so don't forget about them. Start with your toes. Sit in a chair and put your feet flat on the floor, then spread your toes as wide as you can. Hold for a few seconds before releasing and do this a total of 10 times. Then, grab a golf ball or tennis ball, put it under your foot, and roll it back and forth the entire length of your foot. Increase the amount of pressure you apply to get better results. Then, to finish out your stretch, rotate your ankles, one at a time, in circles. Circle slowly to the left, then to the right, completing 10 circles in each direction. Be sure to keep the movements small and focused.
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.