Warming up before a run is crucial to prevent injury. The type of running warm-up you perform matters, too and the static stretches you learned in high school gym class may not be your best bet (more on that below).
Starting with a 5- to 10-minute jog or walk, followed by dynamic stretching pre-run helps prepare your muscles. Save long stretches for after your workout and focus on actively stretching the major muscle groups you'll be using — quads, hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors — and don't forget moves that also warm up your abs, back and calves.
The Best Pre-Run Stretches
Ready to run? Here are eight stretches to do before running that hit your quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, abs, back and calves.
And remember: It's important not to overstretch before your workout. Just take the stretch to the point where you feel resistance, not pain or discomfort.
1. Walking Lunge
- Stand with your feet together, and then take a long step forward with your right foot.
- Bend the front knee to 90 degrees and the back knee until it almost touches the ground.
- Stay here for a few seconds before rising up and take another big step forward on your left leg to get the stretch on your left side.
- Continue this way for about 10 lunges (five on each side).
2. Hip Flexor Stretch
- Kneel on your right knee with your left foot flat on the ground, left knee bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Tuck your pelvis slightly until you feel a stretch along the front of you right leg and hip.
- Raise your right arm straight above your head.
- With your right arm, reach over your head to the left, bending your body in the same direction.
- Hold here for a few moments.
- Straighten your body.
- Repeat this motion 5 times and then switch sides.
3. Side Stretch
- Begin standing with feet at hip-width distance or sit with crossed legs.
- Keeping your abdominals tight, raise your left arm straight above your head.
- Hold for a few seconds, and then reach your arm and lean your body to the right.
- Do this movement dynamically, holding for one or two breaths on each side before switching.
You can do this exercise seated or standing, depending on your comfort levels.
Side stitches are a common complaint among runners, but you can help prevent them by doing this torso stretch before running, according to Stew Smith, CSCS.
4. Thread-the-Needle Pigeon Pose
- Start in a downward dog pose, with your hands on the ground and legs behind you. (You can also start on all fours.)
- Bring your left leg forward, bend the knee, and gently place your knee behind your right wrist. Straighten your right leg behind you and rest your toes on the floor. Your left shin should be parallel to the top edge of your mat.
- Bring your right arm up toward the ceiling, and then thread it underneath your left arm.
- Bring your left arm up overhead and let the right side of your face rest on the mat.
- Hold for three or four counts.
- Repeat on the other side.
This variations is both a dynamic arm stretch and a hip-opener. If laying on the ground feels uncomfortable, you can do this move on a couch or cushion.
5. Hip Circle
- Start standing with your feet at hip-width distance.
- Raise your right knee until it's in line with your hips. Keep your left leg rooted in the ground
- Leading with your knee, open up your hip to the side and rotate in a circle until your knee is back tot he starting position.
- Reverse the motion, closing your hip.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
6. Lateral Lunge
- Stand with your feet together.
- Lift your right foot off the floor and take a wide step to the right, shifting your butt back behind you and sitting into your hip, bending your right knee.
- Press through the heel to return to starting position and repeat on the opposite side, alternating left and right.
If you like, you can do your front lunges and lateral lunges back-to-back. “I like to work every plane of motion,” Schultz says. “This helps to keep the hips as open as possible.”
7. Calf Raise
- Stand on the edge of a stair so that only the balls of your feet are on the stair and your heels are hanging over the edge. (Stand on flat ground if you don't have access to stairs.)
- Hold onto a stair rail for balance, if necessary.
- Rise up on your toes, and then slowly lower your heels so that they come below the stair and you feel a stretch through your calf muscle.
- Hold the stretch for a moment before rising up again and repeating. You can also do the stretch on one foot at a time.
8. Standing Quad Stretch
- Bend your right knee and grab your right foot or ankle from the outside.
- Pull your foot in toward your right buttock and hold it there for a count of 10.
- Keep your torso upright and your head and shoulders aligned over your hips.
- Repeat three to five times before switching sides.
Open up your hip flexors and quadriceps with a dynamic version of this classic stretch. Use a wall for support or challenge your balance by performing the stretch without support.
Warming Up Before Running
Static vs. Dynamic Stretches Before Running
Dynamic stretches (ones that incorporate movement and take joints through their full range of motion) are generally better for pre-run stretching warm-ups than static stretches, which are ones held for extended periods of time.
They not only better prepare your muscles for the workout to follow but may also provide a performance advantage over static stretches. Dynamic stretches take your joints through a fuller range of motion, which better mimics the motions you do while you exercise, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
How long should you stretch before running? Spend eight to 10 minutes doing the above-mentioned dynamic stretches before running, says Schultz. And save static stretches, which you can hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, for after your run to help with recovery, says Seamster.
Why Shouldn't You Stretch Before Running?
You should always warm up before exercise but dynamic stretches are probably the way to go.
Static stretching (holding a stretch for long periods of time) isn't the best way to warm up before training and may actually impede your performance and may not be as effective at preventing injury, according to a March 2013 review in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports.
Instead, after you're done running, spend 10 to 15 minutes static stretching, allowing your body to cool down and heart rate to lower.