Whether you fit in a 5K from time to time or regularly run longer distances, it’s usually a good idea to stretch afterward.

In fact, stretching can help increase and maintain your mobility and flexibility. On an everyday basis, it allows you to move better and do more actions comfortably, like lifting and reaching.

This article looks at:

  • 7 post-run stretches
  • why stretching after a run is important
  • how long to stretch for
  • tips for how to stretch properly
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Ivan Gener/Stocksy United

After you finish a run, you may have the urge to go make a snack, sit down, or get on with the rest of your day — but there are some brilliant benefits to taking the time to stretch before doing those things.

Stretching is important for good range of motion at joints as well as overall mobility and flexibility (1).

This means everyday activities, such as lifting grocery bags or household items and reaching toward the top shelf, feel comfortable. Stretching helps with good posture too — which is essential in today’s world, where many people look at screens for long periods (2).

When jogging or running, your muscles work hard contracting and lengthening in a rhythmical way until you stop. These muscles are mainly in your lower body and core — your hip area, legs, and postural muscles in the torso.

During the run, your body warms up and your muscles become more pliable (3).

Once you have cooled down, allowing your heart rate to lower, your body has the chance to remove waste products created by the exercise. So, at the end of a run, when your muscles are still pliable, is the best time to stretch (3).

It’s important to gain the benefits of good mobility and flexibility. Ultimately, they help you move better and keep you running.

You may feel some soreness at the end of your run, especially after all the effort you put into it. Usually, it feels good to stretch at this point to provide relief, reduce tension, and feel more relaxed.

The good news is that, after a run, it doesn’t take too long to stretch the main muscles you’ve worked.

Aim to stretch each muscle for 15–30 seconds. This means a post-run stretch may take 6–7 minutes in total (4).

Try to make these stretches part of the ritual of your overall running experience so that you gain the benefits from them. It can also be a useful time to note how you feel overall after your run.

Try out these feel-good stretches, holding each one for 15–30 seconds or until you feel the stretching sensation ease off. Remember to do both sides so you’re balanced right and left.

1. Calf, gastrocnemius stretch — back of the lower leg

There are two main muscles that make up your calves: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the more well known.

How to do it:

  1. Step your right foot forward and bend your right knee. Keep your right knee above your ankle (do not go past your ankle).
  2. Keep your left leg extended and ease your heal down toward the floor. You should feel a stretch in your left leg.
  3. Lean forward slightly, creating a diagonal line from your head to your back foot.
  4. Switch legs and repeat on the other side.

How to modify:

If you don’t feel a mild stretch in the calf of your extended (straight) leg, increase the distance between your feet by taking a bigger step forward.

If the stretch is too intense, shorten the distance between your feet.

2. Calf, soleus stretch — back of the lower leg

People often forget about the soleus muscle, but it’s part of your calves and you use it a lot while running. It is at the back of your lower leg.

How to do it:

  1. Take a small step forward with your right foot, keeping both feet flat on the floor.
  2. Bend both knees, distributing your weight evenly on both feet. You should feel the stretch above your ankle.
  3. Switch legs and repeat on the other side.

How to modify:

While standing, try putting your toes up against a wall, with your heel on the floor. Then, bend your knee toward the wall. To lessen the intensity of the stretch, reduce the bend in your knees.

3. IT band stretch — outer hip and thigh

The iliotibial tract (IT) band is made up of fascia, connective tissue that’s different from muscle. That’s why the stretch sensation may feel different than stretching the other muscles after your run.

It’s a good idea to stretch the IT band to avoid knee pain or injury.

How to do it:

  1. Cross your right foot behind your left.
  2. Reach your right arm up toward the sky.
  3. Bend your torso and reach your right arm over to the left side.
  4. Switch legs and repeat on the other side.

How to modify:

To create a deeper stretch, lean your hips into the stretch, in the direction of the arm that’s reaching up. Or, if you want to ease off, lean your hips to the opposite side.

4. Hip flexor stretch — front of the hips

The hip flexors are a set of muscles that lift your legs up when you’re walking or running. They can become short or tight when you’re sitting, so it’s a good idea to stretch them out.

How to do it:

  1. Lower to the floor so that you are kneeling on your left knee, with your right knee bent and your right foot flat on the floor.
  2. Start with your right knee directly above your right ankle and your pelvis directly above your left knee.
  3. Keep the front of your pelvis (both hip bones) facing evenly forward. Do not arch your the lower back.
  4. Reach your left arm toward the sky.
  5. Breathe in deeply. Reach your arm higher to lengthen both sides of your waist. It should feel as if your rib cage is moving up, away from your pelvis.
  6. Breathe out while bending your torso and reaching your left arm over to the right side.
  7. Switch legs and repeat on the other side.

How to modify:

Check that your left hip bone is facing forward and your tailbone is pointing down, so you’re not overarching your lower back. Modify how much you reach to the side to lessen or increase the stretch.

5. Quad stretch — front of the thighs

The quadriceps, or quads, are made up of four powerful muscles along the front of your thigh bone.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your stomach. You can use your left hand as a pillow for your forehead.
  2. Bend your right knee.
  3. Catch hold of your right foot or ankle with your right hand.
  4. Keep both hip bones (at the front of your pelvis) in contact with the floor, and ease your right foot toward your right buttock.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

How to modify:

Move your hip bones more toward the floor and bring your foot closer to your buttock to increase the stretch. If it’s difficult to hold onto your foot, use a sweat towel looped around your foot or ankle and hold onto this instead.

Another nice option is to do the same stretch but standing up balancing on one leg at a time.

6. Hamstring stretch — back of the thighs

Keeping your hamstrings flexible will help support good range of motion at your knees and hips.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Bring your right knee toward your chest and hold your hands underneath your right thigh.
  3. Breathe in, keeping your hips on the floor.
  4. Breathe out and extend your right leg by moving your foot toward the sky. Note that your leg doesn’t have to completely straighten, although it may.
  5. Try to keep your lower back and hips down and your shoulders relaxed toward the floor as you extend your leg.
  6. Repeat on the other side.

How to modify:

As you breathe out, draw the lifted leg farther toward your chest. If the stretch is too intense or you find it difficult to catch hold of your leg, use a sweat towel around your thigh or calf and hold onto this rather than your leg.

7. Glute stretch — outer hips

When you run, the glute muscles work hard. As your leg moves behind you, they help propel you forward.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Keeping your knee bent, lift your left leg so that your lower leg is parallel to the floor.
  3. Place your right ankle above your left knee, creating a figure four shape.
  4. Draw your legs toward you, holding your hands underneath your left thigh. You should feel a stretch in your right buttocks.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

How to modify:

To feel more of a stretch, pull your legs closer toward your chest and make sure the knee of the crossed leg is pressing away from your chest. If it’s too intense, ease off and keep the foot of your bottom leg on the floor.

The benefits of stretching overall outweigh the risks of not doing it, and it doesn’t appear to be harmful for most people.

That said, if you have a health condition or you experience pain when performing these stretches, speak with a healthcare professional about what kind of stretching is safe for you.

If you don’t stretch after a run, you might experience muscle tightness and cramping that could be alleviated when you stretch. Blood pressure also reduces when you’re stretching, which may help your body come back to a state of homeostasis (5).

If you don’t stretch the muscles that are used a lot when you run, such as the quadriceps along the front of your thigh and hamstrings at the back of your legs, they could become tight.

Here are some best practices for getting the most out of your post-run stretch.

  • Ease into the stretch and move gradually until you can feel a stretching sensation.
  • Consider stretching at the end of your run when your body is warm. There are several techniques you can use, such as static, dynamic, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching (7).
  • Hold the stretch at the point where you feel mild tension.
  • Avoid stretching if you get pain that is sharp, too intense, or feels tingly.
  • Hold the static stretches for 15–30 seconds each. After this period, usually the stretch feels less intense and eases off. If a muscle is particularly tight, you could stay in the stretch for longer, for example 60 seconds (4).
  • Breathe deeply while you’re stretching. This will help the muscle relax and lengthen. Try to move deeper into a stretch when you breathe out.
  • Be aware of hypermobile joints and avoid overstretching them. A hypermobile joint is one that is can move beyond a normal range of motion and is therefore less stable and more prone to injury. Keep your joints, especially your knees and elbows, extended or straight, but not overextended.
  • Stretch both sides of your body evenly. If you notice one side feels tighter, hold this side for longer to aim for balance.
  • Try and use good posture, especially during standing stretches.

At the end of your run, you may be feeling euphoric or perhaps exhausted. At this point, it will help to take 5–10 minutes to look after your joints and stretch away some tension in your muscles.

These static stretches will support your overall flexibility and range of motion, allowing you to move with ease and continue running into the future.