Important stretches for running

Stretches for runners are an important aspect for beginners and runners with experience and is a great way to stay active and has many health benefits, both physical and mental. However, running is considered a high-impact activity, which can mean a higher risk of injury. Stretching is one way to help prevent running-related injuries. Anyone who runs regularly should be aware of some of the best stretches to do regularly to stay active and limber.

Causes of Common Running Injuries

According to Cleveland Clinic, some of the most common running injuries are caused by:

  • Decreased flexibility
  • Decreased strength
  • Tight calf muscles
  • Weak thigh and hip muscles
  • Tight hip muscles
  • Weak hip abductor and hip extensor muscles

Common running injuries such as plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band (IT band) syndrome, runner’s knee and shin splints can all be caused by weak or tight muscles elsewhere in the body. Confusingly enough, sometimes the area that is experiencing pain isn’t the area that is weak or tight. For instance, shin splints can be caused by tight calf muscles. 

This is why it’s important to stretch all of the main running muscle groups regularly – not just when you’re experiencing pain. Being proactive can potentially save you from getting sidelined with an injury and missing out on your much-needed runs!

When to stretch

Many physical therapists recommend stretching after a run, when muscles are warm. If you plan on sprinting, you may want to stretch a bit after a light warm-up jog.

IT band stretch

Runner’s World recommends this stretch for your IT band, which can help loosen tight hip muscles and prevent runner’s knee:

Place one foot around the other, with both feet flat on the ground. Keeping both legs straight, lean your hips towards the side of your rearmost foot (so, if your right foot is rearmost, lean your hips to the right). You should feel the stretch down the outside of your leg and around your hip – if you are very stiff, it may take a few times before you feel anything.

Calf stretch

Tight calves can lead to shin splints and other common running ailments. A calf stretch recommended by Runner’s World: Keep the back leg straight and push the back heel into the ground. Keeping a straight upper body and gently lifting up your hips helps. There shouldn’t be much pressure on the front foot.

Hip flexor stretch

Runners tend to rely on their quadriceps muscles (quads), which can leave hip flexors weak. Weak hip flexors tend to tighten to compensate for lack of strength, which can lead to pain and tightness in other areas of the body. Tight hip flexors are not only common in runners, but for many people who sit a lot, as sitting makes hip flexors even tighter.

WebMD recommends these stretches for tight hip flexors:

Standing stretch:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and toes forward.
  • Bend your right knee and bring your right heel up toward your butt.
  • Hold your right foot with the right hand, and gently pull to point your knee toward the floor. You can hold on to a counter or chair with your left hand for balance.
  • Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on your other leg.
  • Kneeling stretch:
  • Kneel with your left knee on the floor and your right leg at a 90-degree angle in front of you.
  • Put your hands on your right knee and keep your back straight.
  • Keeping your left knee pressed to the floor, lean forward into your right hip while squeezing the muscles in your left buttock.
  • Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Hamstring Stretch

Loosening tight muscles can not only improve running, but can help prevent other common ailments such as lower back pain. Healthline recommends this effective calf stretch:

  • Sit on the ground and extend your left leg.
  • Move your right foot toward your inner thigh, so that it touches the top part of your left leg, if possible.
  • Lean forward, bending but not rounding your back and waist toward the left foot as if reaching for your toes.
  • Hold for at least 30 seconds.
  • Repeat with the other leg.

Stretch to prevent plantar fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis’ main symptom is heel pain. The feet take a lot of impact while running, so properly stretching them can keep them happy. Keeping the calves stretched can help, along with several exercises recommended by UConn Health (with images).

Bottom line: 

Regularly stretching for runners is a good idea. Runners are more prone to injuries related to tight muscles, so stretching should be a part of their proactive fitness routine. Don’t wait until you’re already hurting to start stretching!  Practice some of these stretches before your next virtual race

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