Updated: September 2, 2020
Stretching, whether before or after a run, is sometimes mistakenly viewed by runners as something “extra”, which can be cut out when time is scarce. However, how we recover from running also plays a surprisingly significant role in our training. One key element of recovery: lower body stretching.
Our legs power us through many miles, and by doing so, often take the brunt of the impact of our training. These simple leg stretches are especially beneficial for runners of all kinds – whether you are just get started or are a seasoned long distance runner.
What are the best leg stretches for runners?
While it is certainly beneficial to spend some time stretching the entire body, both pre and post run, when time is scarce, focusing on the lower body provides the most benefit.
Leg stretches for runners are key to a healthy recovery; promoting blood flow, helping prevent the buildup of lactic acid, and thus reducing the effects of DOMs and encouraging flexibility.
Implementing a lower body stretching routine has the power to greatly enhance your running. These leg stretches are a combination of static stretches, standing stretches, and dynamic stretches, creating a comprehensive post-run stretching routine.
How do you stretch your legs after running?
Most leg stretches target a specific muscle group in the lower body. This stretching routine for runners takes you through all of the major areas to provide comprehensive recovery support.
When stretching your legs after running, your first focus should be to stretch the areas that receive highest use on the run: the feet, shins, ankles, calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hips and Illiotibial band.
These leg stretches for runner will enhance recovery.
These leg stretches are ideal for runners as they target the most commonly used muscles. In addition, you’ll focus muscles that so often become inactive for runners, which eventually leads to injury.
Test out this leg stretching routine after your next run. Hold each static stretch for 20-30 seconds, and be sure to breath throughout each pose – if you find that you’re holding your breath, back off a bit.
Together, these stretches take less than 15 minutes to complete. Your lower body will benefit from the increased focus and extra recovery time after each run, whether it’s an easy run, long run or tough workout.
10 Essential Leg Stretches for Runners
Taking the time to complete a few leg stretches after running will help you become a better runner, stay injury free, and reduce lingering soreness or pain post-run. Try these 10 quick leg stretches designed for runners to target the most-used running muscles.
- Seated Hamstring Stretch
- Thread the Needle Glute Stretch
- Runner’s Lunge Hip Stretch
- Half Split Hamstring Stretch
- Kneeling Quad Stretch
- Standing Calf Stretch
- Standing Achilles Stretch
- Standing IT Band Stretch
- Standing Shin Stretch
- Toes Pose Foot Stretch
Seated Hamstring Stretch
This seated stretch is helpful for loosening tight hamstrings after a run.
To complete this leg stretch, begin by sitting with your right leg extended in front of you – foot flexed. Place the bottom of your left foot against your right thigh, and lead forward any amount.
Begin by stretching as much as feels comfortable, with a goal to grab the bottom of your right foot. Hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.
Thread the Needle Glute Stretch
Otherwise known as “thread the needle”, this leg stretch targets the gluteal muscles.
To begin, lie flat on your back, placing your left foot flat on the floor by bending at the knee. Bring your right foot on top of your left thigh, flexing the foot to prevent strain on your right knee.
Reach through your legs to grab behind your left thigh and pull towards your chest as much as feels comfortable. Hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.
Runner’s Lunge Hip Stretch
This leg stretch is essential for loosening tight hip flexors, promoting hip mobility and preventing many common running injuries.
Begin by kneeling on the floor, and plant your left foot on the floor in front of you. Next, extend your right leg straight behind you, reaching until your left thigh is parallel with the floor.
To accentuate this stretch, lean back slightly and reach your hands up towards the ceiling. Hold this leg stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.
Half Split Hamstring Stretch
Hamstrings play a key role in your power and performance on the run, but can become chronically tight or inactive in runners. This half split leg stretch is perfect for runners to help prevent these common issues.
Begin by kneeling on the floor, and then extend your right leg straight in front of you, flexing the foot. Your right leg now forms a diagonal, creating a triangle between your legs and the floor.
Next, lean forward and reach down towards your right toes, reaching only as far as is comfortable. You can accentuate this stretch by leaning your hips backwards. Hold this leg stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.
Kneeling Quad Stretch
Perhaps one of the most essential leg stretches for runners, the kneeling quad stretch is a simple way to increase the effectiveness of the classic quad stretch.
To begin, kneel on the floor directly in front of a couch or wall, with your back to the wall. Lift your left toes into the air and lean back until they rest against the wall. Next, extend your right leg straight out in front of you, resting your heel on the floor.
This kneeling version of the standing quad stretch for runners intensifies the stretch in your thigh. To further accentuate the stretch, lean back slightly, moving your upper body closer to the wall. Hold this pose for 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.
Standing Calf Stretch
This leg stretch is beneficial for athletes of all kinds, especially runners.
Position yourself about a foot away from a wall, and place both hands on the wall. Extend your right leg straight behind you while bending your left knee to lean your upper body towards the wall.
As you lean forward, keep your right foot on the floor to feel the stretch in your right calf. Hold this leg stretch for about 45 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.
Standing Achilles Stretch
The lower calf muscles and achilles are often overlooked in post-run stretching routines, even those that focus on the lower body. However, this region is highly active when running and should be part of all recovery routines.
Return to the same position as the calf stretch in front of the wall. For this stretch, extend your right foot straight back behind you and simply drop your right knee slightly towards the floor.
As you do so, you should feel the stretch in your lower right calf and tendon leading to your heel. Hold this leg stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.
Standing IT Band Stretch
Tight Illiotibial bands are a common issue for runners, and often become chronic and relentless during training. This leg stretch helps prevent and minimize IT band issues that runners face so often.
Begin by standing with both feet together. Cross your right foot over your leg, planting it firmly on the floor on the opposite side of your left foot. Next, lean forward and reach your hands toward the floor.
Touch the floor on the right side of your feet, moving your hands closer to your feet to accentuate the stretch and further away to minimize the stretch. Hold this pose for 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.
Standing Shin Stretch
Another problematic region, particularly for new runners, is the shins. Shin splints are common for runners and can be incredibly painful and limiting during training. Practicing this leg stretch after running will help prevent and minimize tight shins.
Begin by standing with both feet together. Cross your right foot over your left, reaching towards the floor with your right toes. Touch your right toes to the floor and bend your knees slightly to put pressure on your right calf.
You can accentuate this stretch by lowering closer to the floor to put more pressure on your calf, as far as feels comfortable. Hold this leg stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.
Toes Pose Foot Stretch
One final leg stretch for runners is sometimes called “toes pose” in yoga classes, and is very helpful for preventing foot issues like plantar fasciitis.
Start by kneeling on the floor, sitting back on your heels. Curl your toes under, reaching back to curl your pinky toe as well. Sit back firmly on your heels until you feel the stretch in the bottoms of your feet. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
These simple leg stretches for runners are perfect for all ability levels. Whether you are just starting out or have been running for years, creating and maintaining a post-run recovery routine is key to staying strong and injury free.
Try starting out with just 5 minutes of stretching after a run, and gradually increase the time as you begin to form a routine. When time is pressed and you’re especially busy, focus on stretching just the legs as opposed to the entire body.
Incorporating these leg stretches after running will help you recover faster, stronger, and healthier than ever before.
More leg stretches for runners:
- 15 Post-Run Stretches for Runners
- Post-Run Recovery Yoga Routine for Runners
- The Perfect Post-Run Routine: Stretching, Strength & Recovery