Stretching before and after exercise is very important for all runners.
On this page, we describe five essential stretches for different areas of the body.
The benefits from stretching are that you may prevent injury, bring the shortened muscles back to their original length and to reduce or avoid post exercise stiffness.
When you stretch you are trying to increase the range of movement around a joint or group of joints. This helps to strengthen the joint and to increase the flow of blood into the muscles around the joint.
Before exercise, in the warm up, you want to prepare the muscle for activity. The best time to stretch is just after a short easy jog and to hold each stretch for 10 seconds. It is especially important if you intend to start an intense activity such as sprinting or speed-work.
After exercise, in the cool down, you want to bring back the muscles used to their original length. During activity the muscle shortens, you notice this when the muscle gets tight and hard. To reduce or even prevent post exercise muscle stiffness you are now trying to lengthen the muscle back to its pre-exercise level. You should hold the stretch for longer - 30 seconds.
Below are stretches we recommend should be done as a minimum before and after running.
There are many more good stretches, but these five exercises will be a good start to prevent injury.
Five Essential Stretches
Calf - Gastrocnemius
- Step one foot a large step in front of the other
- Feet parallel, pointing forward
- Back heel flat on the ground
- Hands on the front bent knee
- Back straight and head slightly down
- FEEL the stretch in the calf of the back of the leg
Lower calf - Soleus
- One foot in front of the other, small step
- Weight on the back leg
- Feet parallel, toes pointing forward
- Both heels down
- FEEL the stretch in the lower calf of the back leg
- One foot in front of the other, a small step apart
- Sit back on the back leg (weight on the back leg)
- Stretch front leg (flex foot upwards for extra resistance)
- Lift your buttocks
- Hands on bent knee
- Stomach in, head lifted and back straight
- FEEL the stretch in the straight leg - just below your buttocks
- Cross feet by taking one foot in front of the other (the right foot in front)
- Find your balance and keep your back straight
- Front leg slightly bent
- Push left hip slightly away from the centre of your body
- Hands alongside of your body
- FEEL the stretch on the outside of your left leg
Quadriceps and Hip-flexors
- Back straight
- Stomach in
- Supporting leg soft (slightly bent)
- Push bent foot into your hand at the ankle - not your toe
- Use a wall or partner for balance
- FEEL the stretch in the quad (hip) of yoru bent leg and try to move the muscle out for extra flexibility
Ten tips on how to stretch
1. Move slowly into the stretch
2. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds prior to exercise (warm-up) and 30 seconds post exercise (cool-down)
3. Breathe and relax while holding the stretch
4. NEVER do any bouncy stretching, always hold and relax
5. Focus on the muscle you are trying to stretch and then try to lengthen it
6. You may be able to breathe in and push the stretch slightly further half way through the stretch. This is most important during
7. Move slowly out of the stretch again
8. Remember to stretch both sides
9. Increasing the range of movement around a joint will help the blood flow to the muscles surrounding the joint and increase
circulation that will carry away any lactic acids that may build up in the muscle
10. Do more stretching than just warm-up and cool-down. A lot of gyms offer stretching classes where the aim is to permanently
and progressively increase your flexibility