We know, we know: Stretching is confusing. One minute, experts tell you to stretch before you run, and the next minute research reveals that static stretching (think: touching your toes) may actually zap performance. What's a runner to do?
Well, first, know this. You need to stretch. Running makes your legs strong, toned, and, unfortunately, tight. Every step you take forces those quads, hamstrings, calves, and hips to flex and extend over and over to propel you down the road. After many miles, those hardworking muscles and tendons can develop imbalances, scar tissue, and tension, slowing you down and paving the way for common over-use injuries like IT Band syndrome, and Achilles tendonitis.
In terms of when and how you should get all Gumby, Chicago-based NASM personal trainer and USA Track & Field certified run coach Meghan Kennihan, suggests doing dynamic stretches before you pound the pavement, and do static stretches after your run, when your muscles are pliable.
"Dynamic—that's in motion—and static stretching is an essential part of any runner's training program," Kennihan said. "Dynamic stretches activate and loosen up all your leg muscles, preparing you for your run. Static stretching at the end of your run can bring your heart down, cut your risk of injury and lessen muscle soreness."
To prevent injury and hasten recovery, perform dynamic stretches before you pound the pavement, and do static stretches after your run, when your muscles are pliable.
Hip Flexor and Glute Activating Leg SwingsPre-Run 1 of 7
Hold onto a sturdy object, stand on one leg and swing the other leg forward and back. Do 20. Then swing the other leg 20 times. Each swing should build until your leg is close to its full range of motion.
Hip Abductor and Adductor Leg SwingsPre-Run 2 of 7
Hold onto a sturdy object, stand on one leg and swing the other leg across the front of your other leg and out to the side. Do 20. Then swing the next leg side to side 20 times. Each swing should build until your leg is close to its full range of motion.
Walking LungesPre-Run 3 of 7
Take a large step forward with your right leg, and bend the knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor and knee is aligned with your ankle. Push back upward, draw your left foot even with your right and step forward with the left. Try to keep your walking lunges fluid, and focus on proper form. Do 20 (10 per leg).
Kneeling Hip Flexor and HamstringPost-Run 4 of 7
From a kneeling position, plant the right foot on the ground in front of you, so the leg is bent 90 degrees, with the knee and ankle aligned. Keeping your back straight, press forward into your right hip while keeping your left knee pressed into the ground, stretching your left hip and right hamstring. To increase the stretch to the left hip flexors, squeeze and contract the glute muscles of your left hip. Hold for 30 seconds to two minutes.
Standing QuadPost-Run 5 of 7
Stand with legs together. Bend your left leg, bringing your heel toward your butt, and grasp your left foot with your left hand. Press your shoelaces into your hand, so that your leg does the stretching instead of pulling up with your hand. Hold for 30 seconds to two minutes.
Standing CalfPost-Run 6 of 7
Stand facing a wall with your hands on the wall at about chest level. Placing the ball of your right foot up against the wall, heel touching the floor, gently lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in your calf while keeping your leg straight. Hold for 30 seconds to two minutes.