Although it sounds easy at first to get in shape by putting one foot in front of the other, it doesn’t take long to figure out that running is actually more complicated than it appears on the surface.  There’s the length of your runs, the hydration, the shoes, and of course, the stretching.

Most people learn what they know about stretching through convoluted lines of folklore, but this is a quick, factual guide to stretching. Note, if you have plantar fasciitis foot pain, check out our best stretches for plantar fasciitis.

The Basics

Stretching is important so that runners can maintain a limber an efficient range of motion for their workouts.  It’s also an important piece of fending off injuries, so it is crucial that runners stretch after every workout.  Some people want to try to tell people to stretch prior to exercise, but the facts say that stretching is actually only ideal after workouts.

Some people also believe that stretching should include bouncy movements.  This is a myth.  Stretches should create a small pull on whichever muscle you’re focusing on but should never create pain.  You can hold a stretch for an allotted amount of time and then switch over to repeat the stretch on the opposite side of your body.

Take a few minutes after each run (or cross training activity) to do these important stretches after every workout.  They’ll give you an undeniable competitive edge and make you more likely to lead a long life of running well.

The Stretches

Standing Calf Stretch

Runners are very prone to calf pulls and strains so any calf stretches runners come up with are helpful.  The easiest calf stretch for most runners though, is the standing calf stretch.

How To

  • Stand at arms length from a wall
  • Lean forward and put both hands on the wall about shoulder width apart.
  • Step backwards with one foot (the side you want to stretch) behind you.
  • Push the heel of your extended leg down onto the ground until you feel a stretch.
  • Hold the stretch and repeat the same routine with the other leg.

An Alternative: Find a stair, curb, or similar ledge and stand on the edge of it with your heels hanging off of the edge.  Push your heels downward until you feel a calf stretch.  Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds.

Standing IT Band Stretch

The IT Band (iliotibial band) is a tough group of fibers that run along the outside of your thigh.  Inflammation and irritation of this band is common in runners, but stretching can help significantly.

How To

  • Stand with your left leg crossed in front of your right leg.
  • Reach your arms up over your head and then reach to the left.
  • Put your left hand on your hip and push gently on your left him until you feel a stretch along the side of your torso, hip, upper thigh and knee.
  • Hold the stretch and then repeat the same exercise on the other IT band.
  • Quick Tip: Move your feet further apart and bend the knee of your front (crossed over) foot for a deeper stretch.

Standing Quad Stretch

A lot of runners get tight along their quads at the front of their thighs.  There are multiple means for stretching your quadriceps, but one of the easiest is the standing quad stretch, often called the flamingo.

How To

  • To stretch your right quad, balance on your left foot.
  • Bring the heel of your right foot up toward your buttock and grab onto your ankle while standing up straight.
  • Pull your foot toward your buttock until you feel a slight pull along the front of your thigh.
  • Hold this and repeat on the other side.

An Important Point: It’s okay if your heel doesn’t actually touch your buttocks.  Feeling a comfortable stretch is more important than anything else, and pushing yourself too hard in this stretch can create strain on your knee.

Seated Hamstring Stretch

One of the most common causes of tightness in runners is hamstring stiffness.  Stretching the hamstrings will not only help eliminate back pain, but it will also help prevent an entire chain of other injuries as well.

How To

Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you (knees straight, toes pointed upward with your heels on the ground)
In a slow, steady movement, lean forward at the hips.  Keep your knees straight and slide your hands down your legs toward your toes.
Extend as far as you can and hold.
Quick Tip: If you dorsiflex your feet slightly you will get a stronger stretch.

Hip Flexors and Psoas Stretch

Your hip flexors are responsible for bringing your legs up toward the core of your body.  Keeping your hip flexors is especially important to maintaining a good running economy.

How To

Start in a forward lunge position and drop your back knee toward the ground.
Raise your arms above your head and look up.
Press your helps forward and down toward the floor.  You should feel a stretch through your torso, hip, groin and thigh.
Hold the stretch and repeat on the opposite side.

Plantar Fasciitis Stretch

Plantar fasciitis (or pain int he touch connective tissue that runs through the bottom of your foot to your heel) is extremely painful for some runners.  This stretch can help ameliorate that pain.

How To

  • Stand barefoot, lifting one heel off the ground while keeping your forefoot flat on the ground
  • You should feel a stretch on the underside of the ball of your foot.
  • Hold this stretch for ten seconds, rest, and repeat it ten times.