Should you stretch before running? The short answer is yes, always. But how to stretch properly before heading out is key. Sports science and research on the importance and impact of stretching is constantly evolving, and runners need to stay on top of vital and accurate information to make sure they do right by their muscles and maintain peak performance.
Elite athletes and casual joggers alike know just how good a stretch can feel, and they also know how much cold muscles or sore muscles can ruin a solid run. Read on to learn more about why you need to up your stretch game, the difference between dynamic and static stretching, and the best ways to warm up before (and cool down after) you clock in a few miles.
Why Should You Stretch Before A Run?
When done right, stretching before running can help warm up your body and possibly protect it from injuries. It can help support your flexibility and range of motion — two things that impact your running performance and risk of injury. Making stretching a part of your warm-up also helps your mobility, something you’d definitely want if you’re already feeling some stiffness.1
However, these potential benefits are only applicable to the correct kind and amount of stretching. Originally, prevailing exercise expert opinion supported the idea of static stretches. But recent research supports the idea that dynamic stretching may be more beneficial as a running warmup.2
Read on to learn more about the difference between the static and dynamic stretches, and when you should choose one over the other.
What Is Dynamic Stretching And Why Is It Better Pre-Run?
- A static stretch is when you hold a position in place for a short period of time, feeling the tight muscle loosen up and stretch out.
- A dynamic stretch requires an active movement. It’s a set of exercises that carry your joints and muscles through their entire range of motion, often by mimicking the same movements you may be performing as part of your training or the sport you’ll be doing.3
Dynamic stretches are ideal before a run or a workout. They effectively help to warm up your muscles by getting your heart rate or body temperature up. They may also help you feel more pumped up or motivated to get moving.4
Examples of dynamic stretches include leg swings for runners or arm circles for swimmers. There are lots of ways you can use this type of stretching as a proper warm-up before a run, so check out the next sections for more.
How To Properly Stretch Before a Run
Here’s a set of dynamic stretches you can try before your next run. Remember to start slowly and breathe well through the movements. Note: Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about starting a new stretching or exercise routine.
Loosen up your shoulders and arms to help you maintain good and flexible running form. How to do:
- Stand tall, arms extended on either side.
- Make large circles with your arms, windmilling them forward for 5-10 reps.
- Reverse the motion, and swing your arm backwards for another 5-10 reps.5
Lateral Leg Swings
Dynamic stretches like this (and its variations) help support your range of motion, crucial to maintaining good running posture and avoiding pain and injury in the long term. How to do:
- For straight leg lateral swings, stand with your hands braced against a wall in front of you. Shift your weight to your left leg for support, then gently swing your right leg in front of you from the hip. Make like a pendulum and keep your right leg straight as you swing it across your body. Perform 12 reps before switching legs.
- For bent-knee variations, simply bend your swinging leg at a 90-degree angle. Aim to open up from the hip, visualizing your bent knee reaching or aligning with your shoulder on either side. Do 12, then switch legs.
- For forward swings, assume the same stance as the previous movements. Swing one knee up and drive it up towards the wall in front of you and up against your chest. Swing it back, allowing your now-straight leg to go slightly behind you. Do 12, then switch legs.6
This stretch targets your core and hips, areas essential for maintaining correct running form. How to do:
- Assume a wide stance, with feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Keep both feet pointing forward.
- Bend your left knee while gently thrusting your hips back, as you simultaneously step your right foot out wider to the side. Hold for a beat before shifting over to the other side. Do 10 reps.7
Do You Need To Stretch After Running Too?
It’s always a good idea to slowly cool your body down after a good run. Gently stretching post-run helps you slow your breathing and heart rate, and may also aid in muscle recovery by lessening lactic acid buildup (the culprit behind that dreaded muscle soreness). This is where static stretching comes in – you can hold a stretch for a few seconds to help relax your muscles and promote flexibility after a good run.8,9
What About Foam Rolling?
Foam rolling is also a popular way to stretch and stimulate your muscles — both before a run and after, for recovery. Foam rolling may also help support better flexibility. Ask your doctor or your trainer about the potential benefits of foam rollers, and how you can properly use one at home to complement your fitness routine.10
Make Stretching A Part Of Your Regular Routine
Even if you aren’t running today, try to help keep your flexibility up with a short set of daily dynamic stretches. It’s a great way to clear your head and get your blood pumping for the day. Regardless of your fitness or health goals, you’re sure to complement them with a solid stretching routine.