5 Runner Stretches to Drastically Improve Recovery

5 Runner Stretches to Drastically Improve Recovery

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Runner stretches can make running fun. Seriously…picture this scenario:

You’re following a running plan and it’s going great. You feel strong and energetic.

Then days two and three roll around and BAM, all of a sudden, in creep the aches and pains. The calves are tight, the knee starts creaking, the shin splints appear, and the hips start to ache.

This has the potential to spiral downhill, sadly, faster than your fastest pace.

And suddenly you’re needing to take extra days off, no longer able to follow your plan, and feeling sore to boot.

5 Runner stretches to improve your post-run recovery and help you avoid injuries.

Does this feel all too familiar? 

Perhaps you have “opted out” of your post-run stretching session. There are many reasons runners skip this.

First off, many people simply don’t know the benefits of runner stretches, and that stretching offers.

Secondly, it can feel so time consuming after already spending a good amount of time on the run itself. After long distances you may feel like you can’t possibly move any more after your run. Or, maybe you feel like a nice refreshing shower would do just as much good as stretching out those muscles after a run?

No matter what your reasoning may be, you should not be skimping on, or especially skipping altogether, your post-run stretching session

Stretching after a run is one of the most important things a runner can do to drastically improve the recovery period. 

Why are Runner Stretches so Important? 

  • Flexibility & Elasticity: Stretching after a run helps with recuperating the flexibility and elasticity of your muscles. When you run and are working out your muscles, they tighten up and shorten, so afterwards you want to stretch them back out to help lessen soreness. 
  • Faster Recovery: Stretching increases the blood flow to the muscles which helps them recover faster after a workout and reduces “delayed onset muscle soreness” or “DOMS”. That’s when you’re most sore the day or two after your run and then you need to take more time off to recover. 
  • Heart Rate Recovery: It offers time for your heart rate to slowly return to normal after a cardio session. An elevated heart rate occurs naturally while you run, and it’s better to slow down rather than stopping altogether.  
  • Reduce Lactic Acid Build-Up: Intense exercise causes lactic acid build-up in your muscles, which causes soreness. Stretching after your workout helps reduce this build up, therefore also reducing soreness.
  • Improve Overall Wellness: Daily use of your muscles (ex: sitting, standing, and walking) all add to a potential lack of flexibility and added post workout soreness, so stretching can benefit your overall wellness as well as improving your recovery time after running.

Tips for Doing Runner Stretches Right

It’s good to keep some tips in mind as you add stretching into your post-run routine for recovery. If you don’t follow these tips, you might end up causing injury instead of helping your body recover.

  • Ease into each stretch. It shouldn’t be painful. Tension and pain are two different feelings. You should be able to feel the stretch without feeling pain. 
  • Don’t bounce or force a stretch. Instead of helping, this can slow your recovery. In fact, it can cause it’s own injuries.  
  • Breathe. Breathing slowly can help ease the slight tension that comes with stretching. Plus, holding your breath while stretching doesn’t end well. Your purpose is to increase oxygen flow, not inhibit it. 
  • Hold the stretch for 30-45 seconds. A good way of measuring this is taking 3-5 slow breaths in and out. Cue also: remembering to breathe.
  • Repeat 2-3 times each side. You want to be nice to both sides of your body. Often one side is easier to stretch than the other based on individual flexibility and balance, but it’s still important to stretch both sides gently. 

Overall, it only takes an additional 10-15 minutes that are so worth your time to help your muscles recover and keep your training on track with effective runner stretches.

If you’re in the mindset that it takes up too much time to stretch, then you should at the very least convince yourself to do these five stretches after each run. These areas tend to take the brunt of impact and/or output the most power while you’re running. Your body will thank you. 

5 Runner Stretches Every Runner Should Do After a Run

1.) Quad stretch: 

  •  Why your quads: Your quads are the front thigh muscles and are obviously super important, hard workers during your run. Quad tightness can affect the knee by pulling the knee cap, causing strain on the tendons and ligaments, and add risk to running related knee injuries. 
Runner Stretches - Quad Stretch
Image credit: https://www.openfit.com/best-quad-stretches
  • How to do it: Stand up and hold a sturdy chair or put your hand against the wall for balance if needed. Bend the left knee, and reach behind you with your right hand to hold your left foot. Guide the foot towards your glutes gently. Avoid leaning back, and ensure your bent knee is pointing down rather than out to the side.

2.) Calf stretch:

  • Why your calves: Calves are the muscles that run down the lower, back part of your leg between your knee and heel, thus another hard worker when you’re running. Depending on your stride and how your foot falls, the inner and outer parts of your calves can end up tight. This tightness can contribute to shin splints as well as stiffness in the muscle, so stretching the calves after your run can help avoid these painful running injuries from developing. 
Runner Stretches - Calf Stretch
Image credit: https://www.verywellfit.com/leg-stretching-exercises-2696361
  • How to do it: Lean your hands into the wall and straighten one leg behind you while bending the front leg. This stretches the top part of the calf muscle. Once you’ve stretched the top, take the same position but bend the back leg as well. This will stretch the bottom part of the calf muscle. 

3.) Glutes: 

  • Why your glutes: These bad boys are another main source of power for your run – your glutes. They are involved with hip extension and keeping you standing up straight. Strong glutes also help prevent lower back strain.  
  • How to do it: Lay flat on your back, and bring one knee gently into your chest. Place your opposite hand on the outside of your shin. Gently move your bent knee across the body into a lying twist. This version also gives a gentle stretch to your lower back.
Runner Stretches - Lying Side Glute Stretches
Image credit: https://jaxfamilysportsmed.com/2017/09/19/stretches-core-strengthening-exercises/
  • A different version without the twist is to lie flat on your back, bend your left knee, keeping your left foot flat on the floor. Cross your right ankle over your left knee, and gently pull your legs toward your chest by clasping hands behind your left leg. 
Runner Stretches - Glute Stretches
Image credit: https://www.runnersworld.com/training/a28708481/glute-stretches/

4.) Hip flexor stretch: 

  • Why your hip flexors: Runners often forget (or underestimate) how much the hip flexors work during a run, because these muscles are located in the front of the hip (rather than the sides of the hip). 
Runner Stretches - Hip Flexor Stretch
Image credit: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/exercise-library/142/kneeling-hip-flexor-stretch/
  • How to do it: Kneel on one knee. The back shin and top of the foot should be flat on the floor behind you. Shift your weight forward gently until you feel the stretch in the front of your hip. Tip: If you need extra support/cushion for the knee that is on the ground, put a folded towel underneath it.

5.) Hamstring stretch:

  • Why your hamstrings: The hamstrings are generally one of the more tight muscles overall, so all the more reason to give them a nice stretch after your run. It helps with overall flexibility and can help you feel less tight after future runs. 
Runner Stretches - Standing Hamstring Stretch
Image credit: https://www.amerortho.com/about/news/view/1133/the-21-best-stretching-exercises-for-better-flexib
  • How to do it: Stand up straight with your feet together. Slowly roll down and reach towards your toes. If you are super flexible already, then you can touch the floor and should still feel a stretch. If you are not flexible, you may not be able to reach the floor and that’s okay. Place your hands on your ankles or your shins. Take a few deep breaths, and then slowly roll up. Repeat 2-3 times. 

Conclusion – Give These Runner Stretches a Try Today!

Each of these runner stretches are easy (and quick) to integrate into your post-run routine, and they all come with huge benefits.

Try it a few times and you will notice the difference in your recovery time!

Want other stretches tailored for runners? Read these posts too:

5-Minute Dynamic Stretching Routine All Runners Need Now

8 Easy Ways to Prevent Running Injuries

10 Post-Workout Stretches for Improved Recovery

6 Simple Exercises to Prevent Runner’s Knee

Sources and Resources:

https://www.runnersworld.com/uk/health/a760484/the-rw-complete-guide-to-stretching-for-runners/

https://www.runnersworld.com/training/a28708481/glute-stretches/

https://www.runnersworld.com/health-injuries/a20827128/5-post-race-standing-stretches-every-runner-should-do/

https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-stretching#benefits

https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/essential-runner-stretches#gluteal-muscles

https://www.verywellfit.com/essential-post-run-stretches-2911936

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