Stretching. As runners, we all know we should do it. But we often treat stretching as an afterthought, and we sometimes skip it altogether.

But improper stretching and no stretching are two great ways to sustain an injury. So, if you’re looking for quality, injury-free long runs, tempo runs and speed workouts, you need to learn how to stretch before running the proper way.

Here’s a look at several stretches that will help get your muscles warm and your body prepared before you start pounding out the miles.

One of the best things you can do to avoid injury is to hydrate before a run. When you hydrate, your muscles have plenty of fluid, and they are far less likely to pull or strain. Yes, you need to stretch, but you also need to drink plenty of water before you head out to pound the pavement or trail.


Before We Get Started: Static vs. Dynamic Stretching

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with traditional static stretching. You know, touching your toes and stuff like that. I still do static stretching, though I’ve begun to feel that maybe I do it out of habit and comfort.

I’ve found that it’s far more beneficial to do dynamic stretches, which are stretches that incorporate active movement that closely replicate the motions your body makes while running. Yes, keep up with your static stretches if you find them helpful. But I’m going to share several dynamic stretches that can best help your body prepare for a tough run.


1. Lunges

Lunges are the perfect pre-run stretch for several reasons. First, lunges closely simulate the forward motion you use when running. By lunging slowly and deliberately, you’re helping get your body into a good state to run at tempo pace.

Also, lunges activate two extremely important muscle groups — your hip flexors and quads. As a dynamic stretch, lunges allow you to properly warmup your body and some of the most important running-related muscles.

How do you properly do lunges? Stand in one place and take a large step forward until your back knee is almost touching the ground and your front knee is bent at 90 degrees. Hold the pose while keeping your back vertical. Then take another step forward with your back knee and repeat. Do about 12 lunges to get your body going.


2. Groin Leans

These are a little like lunges, but they work on your groin instead. Spread your legs apart a little more than shoulder width. Then, without moving your feet, bend your right knee while keep your left leg straight. Once your knee is bent about 90 degrees, hold for 12 seconds. Then slowly reverse the pose, straightening your right leg and bending your left knee about 90 degrees. You’ll begin to feel a nice stretch in your groin and inner thigh areas.


3. Calf Raises

My biggest problem area is my left calf. For whatever reason, this is the muscle that fails me when it’s cold out, when I haven’t properly hydrated, or even when I’m carrying a little extra weight.

But activating calf muscles is relatively easy. Find a step or a stain, and stand on the edge so that your heels are hanging over. Only your toes and balls of your feet should be on solid ground. Then, slowly and deliberately, raise your heels and lift your entire body using your calf muscles. Hold at the peak of the raise, and then gently come down. Repeat this until your calf muscles feel strong and loose.

This is another example of a dynamic stretch that helps your body properly prepare for the rigors of a serious run.


4. Stork Stretching

This one is more static than dynamic, but it’s an important way to get your quadriceps warmed up. Simply lift your heel backward, bending your leg at the knee. Grab your foot with your hands and pull your heel until it touches your buttocks — or until it gets as close as possible.

It’s sometimes hard to balance when doing the stork stretch, so don’t be afraid to put one hand on a wall or some other structure for stability. Hold your foot in a stretch position for about 8 seconds, then do the other leg and repeat as needed.

This stretch is vital to stretching out your quadriceps and your hip flexors, too. You’ll feel the difference when you start your run.


5. Leg Swings

Hold onto a wall or some other structure, and then lift the leg closest to the wall. Begin swinging it forward and back to expand your range of motion. Do this 15 to 20 times on one leg, and then turn around and switch to the other leg. Leg swings like this, forward and back, help to activate your gluts and hip flexors.

Now, try leg swings in a slightly different fashion. You started by swinging your legs forward and back. Now, face the wall and put your hands on it. Pick up one leg and begin to swing it side to side across your body. This expands your range of motion while activating your hip adductor and abductor muscles. Again, do this 15 to 20 times for each leg, and you’ll feel your range of motion expanding as you go.


6. Light Jogging

Before you start your real run, spend 5 to 10 minutes in a light jog. I know that some of us are squeezing runs into busy days, and no one wants to waste precious time lightly jogging. But jogging for just 5 minutes, then stretching some more, can do wonders in helping loosen up our bodies for tempo or long runs.

Light jogging is a good idea as a cool down after a tough run, too. If you’re run a few miles at tempo pace, consider a 5- to 10-minute cool down once you’re done.


Stretch After You Finish!

Don’t forget to stretch after your run. This is especially important after speed workouts, long runs and tempo runs. Rigorous runs test your body, and you’re going to wake up a little sore the next day, most likely. But the best way to mitigate this soreness is to go through your same stretching routine once you’re finished. Stretching in this fashion helps your muscles repair themselves, and it also helps flush out the acid that leads to next-day soreness.


Final Thoughts on How to Stretch Before Running

You don’t have to do all of these stretches. You can do some, and you can also add some of your personal favorites. The important things is to find a pre- and post-run routine that you feel like gets your body and mind ready to give your best. Over time, you’ll find a routine that works for you, and you can add to or subtract from it as your body evolves and as different muscles need more or less attention.

Did I miss one of your favorite stretches? If so, send us a message via our contact form, or let us know about it using the comments section below.