Stretching before a run is critical, according to James Gladstone, chief of sports medicine service and associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“If you’re doing static stretches, which means non-moving stretches, then do them slowly, as if you were trying to uncoil a tight elastic band,” says Gladstone. However, static stretching with cold muscles isn’t recommended and may cause more harm than good.
“Dynamic stretching is even better because we are stretching the muscles naturally while moving,” says Gladstone. He recommends jogging or performing some lighter activity to get your heart rate up before beginning to stretch.
Benefits of Stretching Before a Run
Stretching, when done correctly, can prevent injury. “Muscles work better when they’re warm and able to respond,” says Gladstone.
Additionally, a dynamic stretching routine will activate the muscles used while running, sending the message to your body that you’re about to work. “Dynamic stretching also promotes blood flow and lubricates your joints, which help decrease your risk of injury,” says certified personal trainer and UESCA-certified running coach Thomas Watson.
How to Time Your Stretches
Watson recommends warming up directly before starting to run. “If you pause between your warm-up and your actual activity, your muscles will begin to cool and contract. In other words, the benefits you get from a warm-up slowly wear off, so use it or lose it,” says Watson.
Try incorporating your warm-up into your run by beginning with a light jog before stopping to do some dynamic movements and stretches.
The Best Stretches to Perform Before a Run
Standing Figure 4 (Standing Pigeon Pose)
“This is the one stretch I always do before heading outside for a run, especially if I've been sitting at a desk for a few hours. It activates the glutes, hips, lower back, and lateral quads, and is one you can adjust depending on your flexibility,” says Watson. Use a wall for stability if necessary.
- From a relaxed standing position, bring one ankle up, pointing your knee outward.
- Bring the ankle as close to the waist as is comfortable, and aim to take your shin parallel to the floor.
- Hold the pose for 20 seconds; edge deeper if you're comfortable. Repeat with the other leg.
- Perform 3 sets in total.
Lateral Squat Stretch
“Another great stretch for tight runners, this stretch takes place in the lateral plane, one that we neglect as we run,” says Watson. You can hold on to a table leg or similar for stability.
- Start standing with feet wide apart, your hands clasped in front of your chest for balance. Bend your left knee as you drop down and shift your weight over the left leg while keeping your right leg straight.
- Keep your upper body upright, and don't extend your bent knee past the toe. Go as deep as you comfortably can, holding at the bottom of the movement for 5 seconds before returning to the starting point and switching sides.
- Continue alternating sides for 60–90 seconds.
Excellent for runners who suffer from tightness in the hips and hamstring muscle groups.
- Using a wall for stability, swing one leg back and forth, ensuring you maintain a straight upper body and minimizing rotation at the pelvis.
- Do this for 20 seconds on each leg.
Standing Dynamic Hamstring/Calf Stretch
Watson recommends this stretch for isolating and targeting tight hamstrings.
- From a relaxed standing position, step forward with your left foot approximately 12 inches; keep the heel on the ground but the toes pointed upward.
- Shift your weight to your right foot and bend it at the knee while folding your upper body forward to reach toward your left foot (it doesn't matter how close to your foot you can reach).
- You'll feel the back of your straightened left leg tighten; stay in this pose for 15–20 seconds, flexing and unflexing your left foot.
- Change sides, and repeat for 3 reps total.
Standing Quad/Hip Flexor Stretch
You can do this traditional stretch once your muscles are warm. “When done right, the standing quad stretch will activate your hamstrings and get them ready for running,” says Watson.
- From a standing position, fold one leg back and grab the ankle with your hand.
- With your core engaged, pull on the ankle while simultaneously focusing on tucking your pelvis (posterior rotation).
- Hold this for 20–30 seconds, then switch legs.
Standing Hip Controlled Articular Rotation
Despite the complicated name, this dynamic move is ridiculously simple to pull off and excellent for opening those hips,” says Watson. The idea here is to draw a circle with your knee.
- Start in a standing position, with feet shoulder-width apart. Lift your right leg so your knee forms a right angle, like you're getting ready to step up.
- Then, driving from the hip, rotate the leg outward, opening out the pose, then downward and back inward to the starting position.
- Focus on an engaged core and stable pelvis; the movement should come from the hips. Repeat this 10 times on each side, for two rounds.