Stretching and Flexibility for Runners

You may have heard that stretching and flexibility can make a big difference for runners. Are those rumors true? What are the best stretches for runners?

Before you begin, take a moment to learn more about running and stretching, the timing of stretching, and other tips related to stretching that runners should know. It's also important to understand why you should stretch after you warm up.

Let's take a look at some of the best stretches for runners (to be done, of course, after warming up.)


Standing Calf Stretch

woman stretching after warming up and before running
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The standing calf stretch should be done only after a good warm-up and/or at the end of your runs. For runners the calf, or gastrocnemius, muscle is prone to a calf pull or strain. Improving your range of motion through calf stretches may lower your risk of these injuries. Progressive calf stretching exercises may also be part of your recovery routine if you do suffer from a calf strain.

The standing calf stretch is similar to the Achilles tendon heel stretch, but by keeping your knee straight you focus the stretch on the calf rather than the Achilles tendon.​


Standing IT Band Stretch

Leg muscles in running, artwork

The standing IT band stretch is an exercise that may help those who are living with iliotibial band syndrome. It can be helpful to work with a physical therapist to make sure you are performing these stretches properly.

The iliotibial (IT) band is a tough group of fibers that run along the outside of the thigh down to the knee​ and can cause nagging pain on the outer surface of your knee and upper leg. Iliotibial band syndrome is a common running injury that is generally due to inflammation and irritation of this band.


Standing Quad Stretch

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The standing quad stretch can be a good stretch for most runners, especially those who will be running hills.

The quads get used a lot in the running movement (particularly downhill running.) There are a lot of ways to attempt to stretch the quadriceps, but if you keep your hips stable, this is a good one to do while standing.


Seated Hamstring Stretch

Male marathon runner stretching legs on sunny urban bench
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The seated hamstring stretch or "sit and reach flexibility test" can be used both as a stretching exercise and to assess your lower back and hamstring flexibility.

Because tightness in the low back and hamstrings are often related to muscle pain and stiffness in runners, this stretch can help maintain good running form and reduce the risk of stiffness, pain, and injury.


Hip Flexors and Psoas Stretch

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The hip flexors and psoas stretches can keep you more limber when running uphill, but as with all of these stretches, should not be done until you have first warmed up.

The hip flexors are often overused in runners. These muscles pull the legs up toward the trunk and runners rely on these muscles, particularly when running uphill.


Simple Shoulder Stretch

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The simple shoulder stretch is a stretching exercise that is easily overlooked, but no less important. It can be used to open your upper chest and improve your posture not only when running, but in your day to day life and any other sports endeavors you undertake.

Runners, especially, sometimes forget to stretch their upper body. Simple shoulder structures can be done quickly and make a good choice. Upper body stretches for cyclists may similarly help you pay attention to your upper body.


Plantar Fasciitis Stretch

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The plantar fasciitis stretch may be one way to reduce your risk of the painful and limiting plantar fasciitis which occurs so commonly in runners.

The plantar fascia is a band of tough connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot to the heel and supports the arch of the foot. This band of tissue absorbs the impact each time your heel hits the ground when running. This repeated impact can lead to tears in the fascia, which in turn causes pain.


Advanced Piriformis Stretch

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The advanced piriformis stretch or advanced iliotibial band stretch is sometimes called the "Pigeon Pose" in yoga.

As noted earlier, iliotibial band friction syndrome due to tightness and lack of flexibility in the iliotibial band can give rise to knee pain in runners.


Kneeling Quadriceps Stretch (Advanced)

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The kneeling quadriceps stretch is a variation of the standing quad stretch discussed earlier. The kneeling version seen here is another way to get the quads stretched out after a run.


Quad Stretch With an Exercise Band (Advanced)

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Another alternative yet to the kneeling quad stretch and the standing quad stretch is the quad stretch with an exercise band seen here. This quad stretch is best done after your runs when you have some time to relax and get the most out of this long, slow stretch.

A Word From Verywell

While we have long thought that stretches played an important role in reducing running injuries and improving performance, though this is currently a controversial topic. What this means is that it's important to listen to your own body when calculating the benefit of stretches. It does appear that many of these stretches should only be done after a satisfactory warm up. Talking with a coach, trainer, or physical therapist can also be helpful in designing the right warm up and stretching program for you as an individual.

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