If you run regularly, you’re no stranger to tight, sore muscles and the occasional injury. In addition to regular strength training coupled with proper nutrition and sleep, the right stretches after a run can help your muscles cool down and get ready for your next workout.
Despite popular belief, there isn’t a lot of research that supports stretching before a run, according to physical therapist Corey Rovzar, Ph.D. In some cases, it can actually impact performance.
“Stretching after a run is great, though, because you’ve already put in those miles and it’s more of a recovery,” says Rovzar. “It should always be done gently. Just a nice, light stretch that should feel good and help assist those muscles as they cool down a bit.”
Here are Rovzar’s favorite post-run stretches, with finer points on how to maximize each.
1. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
“The biggest limitation I typically see with runners is hip-flexor tightness, and the effect it has on their running form,” Rovzar says. “This stretch helps you get the hip extension you need while running.”
- Begin with right knee on the ground and left knee forward in a lunge position.
- Keeping upper body straight, lean forward with hips until you feel a stretch.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.
2. Thread the Needle
“Any exercise that’s going to increase thoracic mobility, which is your upper back, is important because when you run, you want your torso to rotate,” Rovzar says. “You don’t want that rotation to all come from your hips. That just makes you more susceptible to injury, and your hips will overcompensate if your thoracic spine doesn’t have the mobility.”
- Begin on the ground on all fours and make a tabletop position with your body—hips should be directly above knees. Elbows, shoulders, and wrists should be in a straight line, perpendicular to the ground.
- Take right arm and thread it under left arm, rotating torso to the left.
- Rest right shoulder and temple on the floor.
- Keep left arm straight and extend it overhead, with palm facing down.
- Hold for 30 seconds (or longer), then switch sides.
3. Seated Hamstring Stretch
“In general, with running, your hamstrings and whole backside (posterior chain) are prone to getting tight because those muscles are getting used a lot. So, if you can get those hamstrings a little more limber, it can help with the sensation of tightness.”
Sit on the floor and extend your right leg in front of you.
- Bend left leg, with knee against the floor and left foot resting against the inside of your right thigh.
- Holding onto right foot, bend forward at waist while keeping back straight.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
4. Quad Stretch
“Downhills are hard on quads because the breaking mechanism works them a ton. If your quads are super tight, it increases the force that goes through the knee, which can often lead to pain or discomfort, so you want to maintain good flexibility by keeping your quads nice and limber.”
Standing as straight as possible, grab your right foot and lift it up behind you.
- Gently pull heel in toward butt to feel the stretch. Think about keeping your knee close in, not winged out.
- Hold for 15-30 seconds and then switch sides.
5. Calf Stretch
“Calves, similar to the hamstrings, are part of that posterior chain and actually take on seven times the force of your body weight when you’re running. Calves are often neglected from a strength perspective—it’s a big deal to show those calves some love because they really are the workhorse.”
Stand on the edge of a curb, stairs, or an exercise step, with your heels handing off the edge.
- Start by rising up onto toes (hold onto a wall or railing for balance).
- Slowly lower heels below the step.
- Do 3 sets of 15—this will both stretch and strengthen the calves.
*Don’t have access to steps or a ledge? Stand in a staggered stance in front of a wall. With both feet flat on the ground, shift your weight onto the back foot until you feel a stretch through that leg’s calf. Switch after 30 sec.
6. Seated Hip & IT Band Stretch
“The IT Band is pretty susceptible to getting tight, especially when people tend to overcompensate by using their quad/IT band instead of their glutes. Coupling the IT band stretching with some glute strengthening can go a long way, especially with people who tend to have IT tightness or outer knee pain.”
- Sit on the floor with legs extended out.
- Cross right leg over left and bend knee so that right foot rests flat on the floor.
- Rotate body to look over right shoulder until you feel a stretch.
- Hold for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
7. Pigeon Stretch
“This kind of goes along with that calf and hamstring posterior chain complex, where your glutes are working hard and susceptible to tightness, especially if you’re doing a lot of uphill running. Stretching your glutes is good to maintain mobility and just calm things down after a hard run.”
- Begin on all fours and extend left leg out behind you, with hips facing forward.
- Bend right knee with shin resting on the floor.
- Slowly walk hands forward and lean into the stretch for 5-10 seconds.
- Switch sides and repeat.
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