Stretching is an important component of any fitness routine. Although it can be tempting to skip warm-up (especially if you’re on the clock), you should know better. Running with muscles that are not properly stretched can result in injury that keeps you off the road or trail for days, weeks or even months.
According to Nikki Kimball, from Runner’s World, dynamic stretching has many benefits: “loosens up muscles and increases heart rate, body temperature, and blood flow to help you run more efficiently.”
Begin each running workout with a 5 to 10 minute jog followed by these five essential dynamic stretches and your legs will totally return the favor the next time you step out the door.
1. Walking Lunges
Why are they good for you: walking lunges open up the quads and hip flexors, which are the major muscle groups you’ll be using during your run. Plus, they simulate the forward motion of running, making them a runner-friendly warm-up stretch!
How to do them: Stand with your feet together and take a step forward with your right foot using a long stride, keeping the front knee over or just behind your toes. Bend the front knee to 90 degrees and lower your body by dropping your back knee toward the ground. Maintain an upright posture and keep your abdominal muscles tight. Then, rise up and take a big step forward with your left knee to get the stretch on your left side.
2. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretches
Why are they good for you: this is a very important stretch, especially for those runners who work at a desk all day. If you do, you probably have tight hip flexors, because they’re constantly in a state of flexion.
How to do them: Start in a lunge position (see above how to do it) with your front knee at 90 degrees and aligned over your toes. Straighten your back leg, until you feel a stretch along the front of your back thigh. Raise your arms up over your head and hold for a few seconds, then release.
3. Hip Circles
Why are they good for you: along with the kneeling hip flexor stretches, hip circles help you warm up the hips, which is key to a runner’s performance. In fact, the hips is where the hip flexors, psoas, and quads and hamstrings come in together, so opening up the joints and muscles of that area before hitting the pavement can help prevent injury.
How to do them: standing with your hands on your hips and your feet hip-width apart, rotate your hips in circles in a clockwise and then counterclockwise pattern, 6 to 10 rotations each direction.
4. Calf Raises
Why are they good for you: calf muscles are responsible for every single step you take on your run. When your foot leaves the ground during a run, your calf muscles contract to make that happen. To avoid soreness or – even worse – an injury, give them some pre-run love by doing a simple set of calf raises.
How to do them: stand on a step with your toes on the edge and your heels hanging off. Push up with both feet into a calf raise, then slowly lower your heels so that they come below the stair and you feel a stretch through your calf muscle.
5. Side Stretches
Why are they good for you: although the cause of side stitches is unclear, some fitness experts say you can help prevent them by stretching your torso before running.
How to do them: bring your arms up over your head and, keeping your abdominals tight, lean to the right and then to the left, bending at the waist. Do this movement dynamically, holding for one or two breaths on each side to warm up the muscles of the midsection.
If you need help incorporating stretching into your running routine, try our 5-Minute Stretch for iOS! This app takes the guess-work out of stretching and makes it fun and enjoyable.