Essential Stretches for Runners

Essential Stretches For Runners

To stretch or not to stretch. That is the question.

It’s the great debate in the running world.

Do you stretch? If so, when? Before? After? How much? How often?

Research through the years has shown that really neither one is absolutely right. Static stretching, attempting to lengthen muscles and tendons to increase flexibility, is generally not recommended prior to a workout. No research has proven that static stretching before a workout prevents injury or improves performance.

A dynamic warm up that gets the blood flowing to the muscles and the heart rate elevated slowly prior to a run or workout is the best option. Good examples of a dynamic warm up are walking, performing the activity at a low intensity, lunges with a twist, knee to chest, squats, etc.

Post workout is the best time to stretch. That is, if you feel the need to. Studies vary on if any stretching is needed at all unless something feels tight. I personally do like to do a few stretches after a run. My calves, hamstrings, hips and lower back appreciate it after being pounded on for some time. Plus, it just feels good.

I’d love to say that I devote a large chunk of time to stretch after each workout. However, I’d be lying. Most days, I’m lucky if I can get 5-10 minutes in. Feeding my face, taking a shower, Mama duties and life in general become more of a priority. On days like that, I pull out my essential stretches. The ones that will target the hard working muscles that I know get tight.

Hold each of these stretches for 5 breaths and you’ll be done in 5 minutes.

You’ve got time for that, right?

Calf Stretch Off a Step

My calves are incredibly hard to stretch. Hanging my heel off a step is one of the best to target that pesky muscle. I do this a lot particularly after my tendon injury.

Calf stretch

If you have more time: Same as above except bend your knee of the foot that is hanging off the step. You’ll feel this stretching more in the Achilles tendon.

Rag Doll

This stretch is great for releasing tension in the entire upper body, straightens the spine and targets the hamstrings.

Rag Doll

If you have more time: Stay in forward fold, release the hands to the ground and cross right leg over left to target the IT Band. Repeat on opposite side.

Downward Facing Dog

Down dog is the best, no? I love it for stretching my calves, hammies, releasing tension in my lower back and neck.

Downward facing dog

If you have more time: Take one leg off the ground, reaching it straight back and out. Bend that knee and open your hips for a more intense stretch in Three-Legged Dog.

Runner’s Lunge

Of course, a runner needs to be doing the Runner’s Lunge, right? This stretches the groin and the hip flexors.

Runner's Lunge

If you have more time: If you want even more of a stretch for the hips, take it all the way down to the ground for Pigeon, one of my favorites.


If you have lots of time to kill after a workout, the absolute BEST stretch but isn’t even really a stretch, is Legs Up A Wall. It gets blood flowing to parts of the body that need it, restores tired feet and legs, stretches the back of the neck, front torso, and back of the legs. Basically, it targets everything that just worked hard during your run!

Legs up a wall

There are a ton of fantastic stretches for your running muscles. Obviously this is just a small fraction of what you can do with what time you have.

Are you a stretcher?

What are your essential stretches after a run?

45 comments on “Essential Stretches for Runners

  1. I need to be better about stretching (I always seem to forget how great I feel afterwards) but when I do stretch, it’s most of the ones you have above, my favorite post run stretch is the Pigeon ๐Ÿ™‚
    Stacey recently posted..This Weekโ€™s EatsMy Profile

  2. OMG you look a hell of a lot more flexible then I am!!! Yes, I absolutely stretch after every run. It was ingrained in me when I first started running and I absolutely think it helps. Right now, I make a point to foam roll and stretch after EVERY hard workout (which is all of them!) and it has made a BIG difference.
    Allie recently posted..Remember Those New Year Resolutions?My Profile

  3. Oooooh Angelllaaa are you trying to make me feel guilty again ๐Ÿ™ Haha I am a stretcher, but I think I have mentioned before….not a very good one, especially for a competitive athlete, BUT I am trying to get better, I promise! I find the calf stretch works better for me with my foot on the floor up against the step, and same with the bent knee. I am not sure why, I just find it hits the spot better than hanging off the step.

    I love that you have lots of yoga stretches in here…maybe that is why I feel so much better the day after I go to yoga?! I am going today, and have an 8 mile hard workout tomorrow so that is good ๐Ÿ™‚
    Tina Muir recently posted..Nana’s Cookies ReviewMy Profile

    1. No guilt! It’s so weird but some days the dropped heel off the step totally gets my calf stretched and other days it’s up against a wall. It changes daily!

  4. I am a stretcher and I think that goes back to ballet habits more than anything. It’s a 20+ year habit. I do dynamic warmup before I run or any workouts then stretch after. Love down dog, forward fold and pigeon pose. I also do old school stretches from ballet – it’s not uncommon to see me with leg up on a counter or the pool table LOL. And calf stretches? I do that like my job!

    1. The good ol’ leg up on the counter is one of my first when I’m done running (or feel the need to stretch a hammie). It’s a good stretch that you can multitask with too!

  5. I’m the anti-stretcher! That said, I do love yoga but I look at that differently than static stretching and I feel I get lots more out of it. You look like a pro doing all these poses, though!
    misszippy1 recently posted..March MadnessMy Profile

    1. Is it funny that I was thinking of your anti-stretching posts when I wrote this? ๐Ÿ™‚ As you can tell, I feel yoga is different than stretching since my “essentials” are almost all yoga poses.

  6. As I approached my forties, I started doing dynamic warm up and some minimal stretching systematically after my runs. I find it has prevented injury…. especially shin splints and tight hamstrings.
    Karen – Fit in France recently posted..Back to normalMy Profile

  7. So I don’t do stretching specifically before or after a run but I do make sure to do Yoga twice a week. I am so injury prone that stretching before or after a run has actually made some of my injuries worse. Clearly I have issues! LOL! But yoga has helped so much! Now I can’t go a week without it or I feel awful.
    Michelle@ recently posted..My race wish listMy Profile

  8. this looks really similar to the stretches I do! my biggest are the calf stretch off a step, pigeon pose to stretch my butt, and a foot stretch. I stretch before and after I run, and sometimes I night (though I only started stretching so often after my most recent injury)
    Karen recently posted..lunging down the hallwayMy Profile

  9. That first stretch, off the stair, is such a good one for the Achilles. I only recently started doing that stretch myself after experiencing some Achilles tendonitis . For stretching the hamstrings I prefer using a green stretch strap instead of the ‘ragdoll’ you show which can be hard on my back. If I ever do that I’m really careful coming up. Lunges with a twist with the forward foot up on something like a chair are really great. I also need to keep up with stretching my quads and hip flexors (both tend to get overworked on skaters).
    Mary @ Fit and Fed recently posted..Pacific Coast Adult Sectionals: Part IIMy Profile

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  11. I admit, I’m horrible at stretching! I rarely dedicate any time to it but am slowly trying to add a few more minutes. I have found it convenient to stretch while showering and it makes the shower even more therapeutic. Thanks for sharing these stretches, I’ll have to try them.

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