You have your running suit and sneakers ready, your fitness is up in a bunch, and your favorite running and workout playlist is ready to juice you up for what’s to come next. You’re ready to embark on your running adventure and join the epic world of running and workout.
However, you feel like something is missing. Well, your feeling is right. Before you get right to your sprinting or jogging or a leisurely evening stroll, you should give some consideration to your pre-workout routine.
If you’re new to the sport of running, we can help you minimize your chance of injury and maximize your performance. You have to learn a few tricks about keeping your workouts safe and effective. It’s the only way to get productive and start reaping benefits from your efforts.
We took some time to cover how stretches impact your performance and why you should pay special attention to specific body parts. In the end, we outline some of the best stretching exercises you should do, so read on.
Why Are Stretches Important?
The greatest importance of stretching is keeping your workout effective, safe, and free of any injuries. It also helps you to better prepare your body for pre-workout and post-workout stress. Your body needs this preparation to allow you to use all your strength and agility properly.
Before you start stretching and doing exercises, it’s essential to consider your personal history of running success (if there is any), stiffness, and injuries. When approaching your pre-run routine, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
Some personal trainers and fitness experts say that you should do static stretching before running, but it’s just a myth. A study from 2019 showed evidence that static stretching doesn’t prevent long-term running injuries. However, it also showed that stretching does help prepare your body for the type of workout you’re about to get into.
The study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. According to it, taking your lower body parts through dynamic stretches or a full range of motion is the best way to prepare yourself for a specific type of run.
Stretching is important no matter what activity or sport you’re doing at the moment. Focus on all aspects of your body to get it prepared for the incoming stress. Whether you’re into running, kickboxing, CrossFit, weightlifting, sprinting, jumping, or whatever, you should focus on your warmups and stretching.
Since we’re talking about running here, both sprinting and running are fully focused on the lower parts of your body. Your hips, legs, and knees all need some preparation before you start doing your activities.
A good pre-workout routine will make sure your lower body is ready for an excessive effort. Incorporate both active and dynamic stretching, along with some carefully selected upper body stretches to improve your performance and avoid any injuries.
Can I Run Without Stretching?
Based on our personal experience, you can run without stretching, but the chances are that it will take a longer period to recover afterward. If you had an injury in the past and your physio told you to do your pre-workout stretches before running, listen to their advice.
In general, for most runs and runners, we’d warmly recommend to start your run slowly with walking and then build up to your normal running pace. Stretching daily is a good practice, especially after general and easy workouts and training runs.
It can help to reduce the chance of injuries in our experience. Your body needs strip knots and adhesions out of damaged and tired muscles. The fibers need a good stretch, as well, and you’ll want to massage the muscles. Pre and post-workout stretching can help with all this.
It’s much better to cut your running session by a couple of minutes to do your stretches than to constantly run without doing any stretching. Doing no stretches at all puts you at risk of slowing down recovery and exposing your muscles and tendons to stress and injury. You should always listen to your body.
If you’re an occasional runner, doing some stretches before running can help. It encourages the blood full of oxygen to flow to your muscles with the necessary nutrients and it aligns muscle fibers. If you’re a frequent runner, it’s more important to do your stretching after your runs than before.
Which Body Parts Are the Most Important to Stretch?
Since your muscles get a decent workout during a run, you should stretch your muscles both before and after running. Regular exercise does your body good, but it also may shorten your muscles.
If you don’t treat this properly, it can lead to decreasing mobility over time. Regular stretching keeps your muscles ready and flexible. More importantly, it also makes sure your joints and muscles are at their fullest range of motion.
Before we move on with the essential body parts to stretch before you go running, we’d like to mention that you should warm up before stretching. Warming up helps your muscles deal better with all the stress you put on them.
Something as simple as walking for 10 minutes can be an excellent way to warm your muscles up. If you’re a runner, these are top crucial body parts you should pay attention to when stretching:
- Quadriceps – stand upright and use your left hand to pull your corresponding leg behind you. Pull your shin toward your thigh and tuck your pelvis, but make sure your knee keeps pointing downward. Stay in that position for at least 30 seconds before you switch to the right side.
- Hamstrings – sit on the ground with both legs extended. If you don’t feel comfortable, extend one leg and then move the foot of the other leg toward your inner thigh. Let it touch the top of your leg. Slowly lean forwards and reach your toes without rounding your waist or back toward. Hold for at least 30 seconds and switch sides.
- Calf – calf muscles are extremely important for runners. You can avoid injury and soreness by stretching them properly. Stand with your left foot behind your right and bend your right leg forward. Make sure you keep your left leg straight, your left foot on the ground, and your back straight. Hold for at least 30 seconds and switch sides.
- Iliotibial band – cross your legs and stretch your right arm over your head while using your left arm to balance with. Lean forward as much as you can and reach toward your left side. Hold for at least 30 seconds before you switch sides.
- Piriformis – lie on your back and bend both knees but keep your feet flat on the floor. Start pulling your left knee up to your chest and then pull it up toward your right shoulder with your right hand. Stay like that for up to 20 seconds, then repeat.
- Psoas – put your left foot forward like in a lunge and keep your shoulders and chest upright. Use your pelvis to pull back and tighten your buttocks. Lean forward as much as possible until you feel a nice stretch. Stay like that for up to 30 seconds, then switch.
- Gluteal muscles – while lying on your back, bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor. Cross your left ankle over your right ankle and grab behind your right knee to bring your leg toward your chest as close as possible. Stay like that for up to 30 seconds, then switch.
- Groin – stand straight and spread apart your feet in a wide stance. Start leaning to the left without moving your right leg and bend your left knee until you feel a nice stretch. Stay like that for 20 seconds, then switch.
- Spine stretch – many runners forget all about the stress on the spine. Since this can cause pain, tightness, and a decrease in your motion range, stretch your spine by laying down on your right side and keeping your right leg straight. Bend your left knee until you touch your chest. Rotate your left leg until your knee is touching the ground in front of your right leg. Repeat.
- Lower back – lie on your back, grab both of your knees with your hands and pull them up to your chest until you feel a stretch. Stay like that for at least 20 seconds.
Now that you have some basic information on the importance of stretching and how to do your warmups, let’s move to some of the best stretching exercises to do before running.
We’d also like to give you a couple of tips on how to do your warmups if you have an injury. In case you experience any pain while performing your stretching exercises, you should stop immediately.
Feeling a stretch and feeling pain are two completely different things, and you should know how to tell a clear difference. If you can hold your stretches for 30 seconds comfortably and without any pain, carry on with your workouts.
List of Stretching Exercises to Do
It doesn’t matter if you’re a newbie to running or an avid runner – whatever you do, make sure you’re doing it gradually. Taking things slow ensures you don’t stress and shock your muscles into an instant overuse injury.
If you’re looking for the best way to increase your running length, intensity, and frequency, stretching is how you prepare your body. So, before you go running, these top stretching exercises can help get you prepared for a good run, whether you’re sprinting, jogging, or taking things slowly.
Never start full-out running without preparing your body for it. It needs proper movement before stressing. Static stretching can be an excellent way to relax your body and prepare it for all the contractions, but dynamic stretches are the best way to do your warmups before running.
Get in a couple of rounds of 10 walking lunges per each leg. It will wake up your body and give your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and hips a good shaking, as well as your calves. Lunges are also great for practicing your balance.
Many people wrongly discard leg swings as ineffective, but they can’t be more wrong. Swing your legs one at a time, forward and back, and side-to-side. Brace your hand on a wall, table, or bench if you need balance.
Don’t put too much effort into it – just swing your legs naturally and gently. Let your joints and muscles swing through a comfortable range of motion. Make a few circuits before you go for a run.
Give your calves a proper exercise
Go into the pushup position – your hands under your shoulders and your toes on the ground – and start pedaling. Push off one foot at a time like you’re riding a bicycle. Make sure your toes are on the floor and your upper body and torso stable. Pedal until you start feeling your calves activated. You can also hop up into jumping jacks if you want to give your calves a bit of a harder push.
One of the best and most popular pre-run stretches is doing hip circles. Stand straight with your feet wide apart, your hands on hips and toes forward. Circle your hips five times, both counterclockwise and clockwise.
Deep squatting is an excellent way to warm up your hips, quads, hamstrings, and lower back. Get in a deep squat position with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart. Press your inner thighs with your elbows, straighten your legs, and lower your hands to the ground. Slowly raise to a standing position, one vertebra at a time.
Then spread your arms out to the sides to open your chest and raise them above your head. Lower your arms back down and touch your heart with your palms before you plunge down into a squat. Do the same thing five times.
Use a foam roller
A foam roller can be extremely helpful in supporting your stretching efforts. It helps stretch into parts of your muscles you can’t stretch with any other method or access through your regular stretching exercises. Start slowly to get the most out of your foam rolling.
Let the roller sink into your muscles by finding the exact spots that need the most attention. Start with your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and then switch to calves.
Kneeling hip stretch
Take a knee and lean forward with your hips forward. Shift your weight up toward your front foot to find balance and keep your torso upright in a steady position. It will stretch your hip rather than your spine.
Rock yourself back and forth a couple of times and reach toward the sky with both hands up. Gently and slowly turn your torso and arms to both sides to stretch your rib cage as well. Repeat by switching sides.
These are all stretching exercises you should do before running, but it’s equally important to do some stretches after running too. Do some hamstring and calf stretches after running, as this is two in one stretching exercise that will do you good and allow your muscles and lower body parts to relax.
You can also use a foam roller to release tightness in your quads, calves, and hamstrings. Don’t forget your piriformis, as it can cause pain in your nerves, hamstrings, or lower back. All these exercises can help improve your running performance and make you feel better.
Running can cause some damage to your knees, ankles, and hips. However, you can significantly reduce this damage if you just pay some attention to your pre-workout and post-workout routines. Give your body a proper warmup before you go running and do your stretches after workouts to make sure your body gets the treatment it deserves.
We honestly hope this article will help you tackle your running routine as a true professional. If you want to see some real results in your workouts, you need to listen to your body. Give each muscle and body part the necessary treatment it needs to function properly.
Start slow and build your way up. Don’t forget that proper diet and nutrition, and hydration play important roles in your daily exercise too. Eat a balanced diet with lots of vegetables and fruit, drink plenty of water daily, and exercise regularly. You’ll notice the results quite quickly if you really put your mind to it.