The Best Stretches for Runners to Warm Up and Cool Down

There are many benefits to stretching before running: it prepares your body for the workout to come and increases joint flexibility.

“Regular stretching alone cannot prevent injuries, make you run faster, or correct poor posture. But it prepares your body for running and helps relax tired muscles afterwards,” says running expert Sascha Wingenfeld.

Stretching has many benefits

There are different types of stretches recommended for before or after your run:

  • Before running: A short warm-up routine of dynamic stretching can help your muscles feel refreshed. “It’s more about relieving everyday soreness and preventing muscle imbalances before your workout. That way you don’t have to struggle against your body during your run.” Check out all benefits of warming up before your run.
  • After running: A static stretching routine initiates the recovery process. “Stretching as a cool-down relaxes your body and mind.” This supports and speeds up your recovery post workout.

The most effective stretches for warming up and cooling down

Are you not really sure what stretching exercises to include in your warm-up or cool-down? We have put together two short routines to help you optimize your warm-up and cool-down.

Warm-up:

Dynamic stretching is designed to warm up your muscles. “This should help loosen and warm up your muscles without reducing muscle tone,” says Sascha. Move smoothly through the exercises and do not try to stretch to the maximum point of flexibility.

Recommended warm-up routine:

  • 5-10 minutes of easy running
  • 1-2 series of stretches with 10 repetitions each
  • Hold each position for 1-2 seconds

Exercise 1: Warm-up for hips, quadriceps, shoulders and upper body

How to do the exercise:

  1. Take a wide lunge step forward with your left leg. Place your hands on the ground on either side of your left foot (sprinter’s stance). Now extend your right leg behind you while keeping your back straight.   
  2. Twist your upper body to the left and up. Reach your left arm toward the ceiling and gaze up at your hand.
  3. Now turn your upper body back toward the floor. Push the elbow of your left arm down toward the inside of your left foot. Turn your left knee slightly out and hold your right leg in a relaxed position.
  4. Repeat this sequence at least 5-10 times on each side.

Exercise 2: Warm-up for hips, quadriceps, hamstrings and back

How to do the exercise:

  1. Take a wide lunge step with your left leg. Place your hands on the ground on either side of your left foot (sprinter’s stance).
  2. Now extend your right leg behind you. Lift your bottom in the air and slowly straighten your left leg until you feel a pull. At the same time, bend your head toward your left knee.
  3. Repeat this sequence at least 5-10 times on each side.

Exercise 3: Warm-up for quadriceps and glutes

How to do the exercise:

  1. Stand on your right leg and pull your left knee to your chest.
  2. Then pull your left foot to your bottom and reach your right arm high above your head.
  3. Repeat this sequence at least 5-10 times on each side.

Cool-down:

The following cool-down routine helps your body reduce the initial soreness in your muscles after your workout.
Remember to stretch until you feel a slight pull, not until you feel pain. Make sure to breathe calmly and deeply: your body needs oxygen to relax your muscles. Repeat each exercise on both sides.

Note:

You should not perform this extensive stretching routine after very intense workouts. A shorter version of the exercises is probably enough.

Recommended cool-down routine:

  • 5-10 minutes of easy running  
  • 3-4 series of stretches
  • Hold each position for 60 seconds

Exercise 1: Cool-down stretch for hips and quadriceps

How to do the exercise:
Take a lunge step forward with your right leg. Put your left knee on the floor. Push your hips forward and pull your left foot to your bottom. Make sure to engage your core and open your chest.

Exercise 2: Cool-down stretch for hips, quadriceps and upper body

How to do the exercise:
Kneel with your toes flat and sit back on your heels. Lean back and put your hands on the floor behind you. Push your hips forward, open your chest and press your knees toward the floor.

Exercise 3: Cool-down stretch for toes and soles of feet

How to do the exercise:
Kneel with your toes tucked and sit back on your heels. Slowly shift your weight back to increase the stretch in your toes.  

Exercise 4: Cool-down stretch for glutes and hips

How to do the exercise:
Place the outside edge of your right knee on the floor and twist your lower leg under you at a 65 degree angle. Extend your left leg behind you with your toes flat on the floor. Now press your left hip toward the floor. Press your upper body toward your right knee while keeping your back straight.

Exercise 5: Cool-down stretch for inner thighs, hamstrings and calves

How to do the exercise:
Perform the hurdler’s pose. Extend your left leg forward and place your right foot against the inside of your left thigh. Grab the inside of your left foot with your left hand and pull your upper body forward while keeping your back straight. Extend your right arm over your head to feel a stretch along the right side of your upper body.

 Need more routines? Check out the general bodyweight warm-up routine for any type of training or the special race warm-up routine!

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Sascha Wingenfeld Sascha, health trainer & active triathlete, has been coaching runners from beginners to professionals for over 10 years. "I love my job and I love running." View all posts by Sascha Wingenfeld »

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