Inside Scoop: Here are 5 easy and effective stretches to do before a run to warm you up.
This post was submitted by Lauren Abbott, a young mom, writer, and fitness enthusiast that loves to dabble in the various realms within the health and fitness world.
If you’re a runner, good for you! Running can be a great way to add movement into your life and to look after your health.
But are you taking care of your knees?
Failing to stretch before you run can cause injury – and we’re not just talking about pulled muscles. When your muscles are tight, they won’t extend as fully as they should. This means that when they’re put under stress, your joints, especially your knees, will feel the brunt of the impact.
According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 70% of runners suffer an overuse injury every year. Of those injuries, roughly 80 percent are at or below the knee.
Knee injuries are no laughing matter, but they’re easily avoidable. That’s why we’ve put together this list of 7 stretches to do before a run. Not only will you be more limber, but you’ll finish your run in better shape than you started it.
BUT FIRST…START WITH A BRISK WALK
Besides general muscle tightness, cold muscles can also be a problem for runners. When your muscles are cold, your body isn’t pumping the maximum amount of blood to them – just enough to keep them alive while they hang there, between your bones, waiting to go to work.
A warmup walk gets your leg and hip muscles moving, without putting them under a lot of stress. According to the National Sports Medicine Institute, this increases blood flow to the area, and causes small blood vessels and capillaries to dilate, increasing your muscles’ overall blood capacity. Then when you start your run, they’ll be ready to spring into action.
Walk for about ten minutes before you start your run, and you’ll notice that your muscles are looser. Not only does this lower your risk of injury, but it can also help you run faster.
Now that you’ve got your blood moving, here are 5 effective stretches to do before a run to warm you up and help avoid injury.
5 STRETCHES TO DO BEFORE A RUN
1) Knee Reach
These first three stretches come courtesy of our friends at the American Council on Exercise. It’s the first part of their “forward lunge to hamstring stretch” series of stretches. We like these because they all work your hamstrings – a source of pain for every runner – while each of them works a different set of muscles as well.
To do the knee reach, start with your feet hip-width apart. Next, keep your left leg straight while lunging forward with your right leg and extending your arms out just past your right knee (see image and variations below).
After you’ve lunged forward, step back so your right heel is next to your left toes. Now lock your right leg straight and lift your right toes off the ground as you push your hips back and flex your left leg. Reach down towards your toes, and you’ll feel a stretch in your hamstring and your calf muscles.
Repeat this 3-5 times on each side, alternating sides as you go.
This stretch works not just your hamstring, but also your abs, hips, shoulders, and quadriceps.
2) Overhead Reach
The overhead reach is similar to the knee reach, except you stretch your arms overhead like Superman while you’re lunging forward. This slight change makes a big difference in which muscles you’re stretching.
Repeat this exercise 3-5 times on each side, just as you did with the knee reach.
Like with the knee reach, you’ll be stretching your hamstring, hips, and quadriceps. However, if you’re reaching up as high as you can during your lunge, you’ll also feel a nice stretch in your middle and lower back, areas that are often neglected by runners.
3) Rotational Reach
The rotational reach is another stretch that’s deceptively similar to the knee reach. However, this one emphasizes the muscles that you use in the rotational part of running, which happens as you swing your arms and torso to plant your feet.
Instead of reaching forward as you lunge forward, keep your hands together and rotate your torso towards your forward leg. So you’ll be twisting right when you lunge with your right leg, and vice-versa. Repeat as with the other lunges.
This stretches your hamstrings and quads, as well as your hip flexors and the muscles that support your thoracic spine.
*See image below from the American Council on Exercise.
4) Calf Stretch
Now that you’ve worked your quads, your hamstrings, and your upper body, it’s time to take care of your calves.
To do a calf stretch, find a wall, and stand facing it. With your hands against the wall for balance, bend your right leg at the knee, while locking your left knee with your leg out behind you and both heels on the ground. Press against the wall, and you’ll feel a stretch in your left calf muscles.
Repeat this as you did the other stretches, making sure to work both legs.
5) Side Lunge
The purpose of the side lunge is to stretch your adductors. These are the muscles on the sides of your thighs that keep your hips straight and centered over your knees.
To do a side lunge, keep your right leg straight, and lunge sideways to your left, bending your left knee. Rest your left forearm on your thigh, and try to touch your right hand to the ground without bending over. You should feel a stretch on the inside of your right thigh.
As before, repeat this exercise 3-5 times on both sides.
Don’t Forget to Stretch Afterwards
When you’ve finished your run, your muscles will need to recover. This causes them to stiffen, which can lead to a knee injury after your workout.
So instead of going straight from running to sitting on the couch – or in your car – give your muscles a little love afterward. They’ve earned it!
Stretch your hamstrings and quads while they’re still warm. This will keep them looser even after they cool down. We’re not saying you’ll be like Stretch Armstrong after a run, but you’ll feel less stiffness, and you’ll be less likely to suffer a knee injury after the fact.
There are as many stretching techniques as there are runners. What are your favorite stretches to do before a run? Let us know in the comments.
Lauren Abbott is a young mom, writer, and fitness enthusiast that loves to dabble in the various realms within the health and fitness world. She has gained the majority of her experience writing and researching for NordicTrack, which has helped her branch out on her own as a writer. She hopes to share her knowledge to be able to advise and inspire others.