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10 Essential Stretches for Runners

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  • Who Needs to Stretch

    Who Needs to Stretch

    Even a slight jog gives a person's muscles a workout, and many doctors recommend stretching those muscles both before and after an exercise routine. Exercise can shorten a person's muscles, decreasing mobility over time. Stretching keeps the muscles in the body flexible, so that the muscles and joints are at their fullest range for motion.

    Most doctors also recommend that you warm up before stretching and running. Muscles respond better to the stress the body puts on them when they've been warmed up. Warming up can be as simple as walking for five to ten minutes, just enough to get the blood flowing through the body.  Avid runner and personal trainer Allie Burdick helps us outline ten crucial muscle areas for runners, along with the stretches you need to keep them healthy.

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  • Quadriceps


    Often referred to as your quads, your quadriceps femoris muscle covers most of the front and sides of your thighs. To stretch them, stand upright and pull your leg behind you with the corresponding hand. Try to keep your knee pointing downward as you do this stretch to protect your knee joint. You can use a chair to balance yourself.

    "It's especially important to stretch the front part of your legs after a hilly (up or down) running route," says Burdick.

  • Hamstrings


    Your hamstrings make up the back part of your thigh, stretching from the hip to the knee. For this 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. Repeat with the other leg.

    "Be sure to stretch — but not over-stretch — these important running muscles after each run," Burdick adds. "Just a gentle release will do — no need to grab your toes and pull backward."

  • Calf


    Your calf muscles on the back of your lower legs are a key area to pay attention to after a run. "Inadequate calf stretching can lead to a host of running-related sore spots or injuries ‘up the chain’ if not loosened and relaxed after a run," explains Burdick.

    To stretch your calf muscles, stand close to a wall with your right foot behind your left. Start to bend your left leg forward while keeping your right leg straight. Be sure not to bend the right knee and to keep your right foot firmly on the ground pointing straight ahead. Straighten your back and hold the pose. Repeat with the other leg.

  • Iliotibial Band

    Iliotibial Band

    Your body's iliotibial band, or ITB for short, runs on the outside of your thigh between your hip and shin. "It's a very commonly injured area for new runners or those adding too much mileage too soon," says Burdick. "It's best to begin and end a run with static or dynamic stretches to the IT band area to keep it moving along with you."

    To begin this stretch, stand near a wall or something you can use to balance yourself. Move your left leg in front of your right one, crossing at the ankles. While balancing with your right arm, stretch your left arm over your head, reaching toward your right side. Hold and repeat with the other leg.

  • Piriformis


    The piriformis is one of six muscles in the gluteal, or buttocks muscles. "It's engaged with every step you take on the run and is essential to keeping the hamstrings and hips happy," adds Burdick.

    To stretch the piriformis, lie on your back with both feet flat on the floor and both of your knees bent. Pull your right knee up to your chest. Grasp your knee with your left hand and pull it up towards your left shoulder. Hold for five seconds and then repeat on the other side.

  • Psoas


    The psoas (pronounced so-az) muscle resides in the body's pelvic region, and connects the lower back to the upper thigh. "There are endless ways to stretch this area," Burdick says. "Taking a yoga class or engaging in some classic yoga poses like pigeon are an excellent way to keep this area loose."

    One stretch that can address this area is the standing stance pelvic tilt. Stand up straight with good posture, chest pointed up and shoulders back. Push your pelvis back and under and hold this pose for 10-20 seconds.

  • Gluteal Muscles

    Gluteal Muscles

    The body's gluteal muscles, or “glutes” as they are commonly called, make up the buttocks, and play a vital role for runners. "They are the powerhouse of a running stride and should be strengthened as well as stretched, for ultimate running performance," says Burdick.

    To stretch these muscles, lay your back onto the ground with both your arms flat on the ground and parallel to your torso. Lift your legs into the air and place your right foot across your left knee, pulling your right leg toward your chest. Repeat with the left leg. 

  • Groin


    Your groin area refers to the part of your body between your stomach and thigh in the general hip area. "You usually don't know your groin is involved in running until you feel pain," Burdick adds, "which is why it's best to add a few groin stretches into your running regimen."

    There are several different stretches that cater to your groin area. Burdick recommends sitting straight up with your left leg bent at the knee and resting against the ground. Cross your right leg over your left knee. Hold and repeat.

  • Lower Back

    Lower Back

    According to Burdick, keeping your lower body stretched and strengthened should be enough to keep away lower back pain. However, harder running surfaces like sidewalks can cause a runner to use additional force when their feet touch the ground. This can start to irritate the lower back.

    "Laying on your stomach, on a soft surface, and doing a few press-ups after each run is probably enough to keep your low back pain-free, as long as you're stretching all your other major muscle groups," Burdick says.

  • Upper Back

    Upper Back

    The upper back area is another part of the body that runners should be aware of. Posture is important for runners, but Burdick stresses that it's not always something that comes naturally.

    "If you're feeling especially tight [in your upper back], you can grab a band — one side in each hand — and simply pull the ends away from each other," Burdick suggests. This motion contracts the scapula, and can help release whatever tension has built up on the run.