Running is a great form of exercise! But it can also be hard on our muscles and joints. In order to keep your muscles and joints fully functioning and pain free be sure to do these 6 stretches after a run or long walk. Fitness is important, but so is longevity! Stretching helps in the long run to keep your mobility and decrease your risk of injury.
Hold each of these stretches for at least 20 seconds on each side…
1. Seated Hamstring Stretch – Sit down with one leg out and one leg folded in. Reach for the toes and hold. Take your top arm up and overhead to also stretch out the low back. Repeat on other leg.
- The hamstrings are responsible for pulling the leg under and behind you as your foot touches the ground. The hamstrings work with the glutes to produce hip extension, which is the powerful phase of running.
- The more powerful your hip extension, the faster you will go. This is why the faster you go, the more your hamstrings feel it; and why your hamstrings often get sore after sprinting, or pushing your speed.
- The hamstrings can get tight after a run and are VERY important to stretch. If you only have time to do one stretch, do this one! Tight hamstrings are the leading cause of low back pain, and can cause a whole slew of mobility issues.
2. Hip Flexor Stretch – One knee down and one knee up. Push your hips forwards and reach one arm up and overhead. (ie. left knee on the ground = left arm up overhead)
- During a run, with every step you take your hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hip joint) work to bring your foot off the ground, bring your knee up, and propel your leg forwards. Running overworks these small muscles, so it is important to give them some attention and stretching after your run. Tight hip flexors can lead to hip, knee, or low back pain. All things you want to avoid!
3. Wide Leg Hamstring/Low Back Stretch – Stand with legs wider than hip width, grab opposite elbows and fold forwards. Relax your neck and sway slowly from side to side.
- This will again stretch out the hamstrings (see above why that is important) and will also relax and stretch the low back. The back muscles have to work to keep the body upright and in good posture during the duration of the run. These guys have to stay flexed and activated the whole time, which can be a lot of work depending on how long your run is!
4. Piriformis Stretches – either a Seated Piriformis Stretch (left) or Pigeon Pose (right)
- The piriformis is a deep glute/hip muscle that is responsible for rotation at your hip. In running gait, t externally rotates and stabilizes the leg that is on the ground. When tight it can irritate the sciatic nerve, causing glute, hamstring and/or back pain.
5. IT Band Toe Touch
– (This get’s the hamstrings too!) Stand with your feet together and legs straight, fold forwards. Now bend your right leg and keep your left leg straight. Walk your hands over to the left side (the straight leg side!) and hold. Switch sides after 20+ seconds.
- The IT band (or illiotibial band) is part of a muscle that runs along the outside of the leg down to the knee. The IT band acts as a stabilizer while running, and can become inflamed with overuse. When it is inflamed, the band stops gliding smoothly, causing various types of pain at the knee. Foam rolling is another way to keep the IT band healthy.
6. Calf Stretch – Place one heel on the ground, and the other toe up on a wall or step. Keep leg
straight and lean forwards. Optional: Move hips side to side as you keep that leg straight and calf stretched.
- The calves (gastrocnemius/soleus) are responsible for the foot’s push off the ground. These muscles lengthen as your heel or foot strikes the ground and then the muscle shortens, or contracts, as you “toe-off” and press off the ground with each step. Stretching the calves is especially important if running on hills! Tight calves can cause the dreaded shin-splints. So keep those calves loose in order to avoid that shin pain!