Nothing can derail your fitness goals like an injury. Running with muscles that are cold and not properly stretched can result in a muscle strain that keeps you off your feet — and off the road or trail — for days, weeks, or even months. Starting your run with a 5- to 10-minute jog followed by stretching helps warm up your muscles so they’re primed for your run, whether it’s a couple of miles or a marathon. Focus on stretching the major muscle groups you’ll be using — quads, hamstrings, gluteals and hip flexors — and don’t forget moves that also warm up your abs, back and calf muscles.
STATIC OR DYNAMIC STRETCHES?
Most experts agree that dynamic stretches (stretches that incorporate movement and take your joints through their full range of motion) are better for pre-run warm-ups than static still stretches that you hold for extended periods. An active warm-up incorporating dynamic stretches better prepares your muscles for the activity to follow. Dynamic stretches may even provide an advantage for performance over static stretches, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. “I do a lot more dynamic stretching in general versus static stretching, just because it resembles movement a lot better than static stretching,” says athletic performance coach Hannah Schultz, CSCS.
1 WALKING LUNGES
Not only do walking lunges open up the major muscle groups you’ll be using during your run — the quads and hip flexors — but they also simulate the forward motion of running, which makes them particularly useful as a warm-up stretch, says triathlon coach Scott Seamster, CSCS. HOW TO DO THEM: To do walking lunges, stand with your feet together and 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 floor. Stay here for a few seconds and work to straighten the back leg so you feel a stretch through the front of your left thigh. Then, rise up and take a big step forward with your left knee to get the stretch on your left side. Continue this way for about 10 lunges.
2 KNEELING HIP FLEXOR STRETCH
If you work at a desk all day, you probably have tight hip flexors, because they’re constantly in a state of flexion. This makes it extra important to stretch them properly before you work out, says athletic performance coach Hannah Schultz, who suggests performing a dynamic version of a kneeling hip flexor stretch. HOW TO DO IT: Start in a lunge position with your front knee at 90 degrees. Begin to straighten your back leg, so you feel a stretch along the front of your back thigh. Keep your front knee aligned over your toes. Raise your arms up over your head and hold for a few seconds, then release. Continue in a dynamic motion, shifting forward as you raise your arms up, then lowering your arms as you come back to the starting position. Repeat 5 times and then switch sides.
3 SIDE STRETCH
Side stitches are a common complaint among runners. Although the cause of these annoying pains is unclear, fitness author Stew Smith, CSCS, says you can help prevent them by stretching your torso before running. You can do this from a standing position, or, as athletic performance coach Hannah Schultz recommends, you can add a side stretch to a kneeling hip flexor stretch. HOW TO DO IT: Bring your arms up over your head and, keeping your abdominals tight, lean to the right and then to the left, bending at the waist. “That is going to work lateral flexion of the torso, which helps open up the hip flexors in a side-to-side range of motion,” Schultz says. Do this movement dynamically, holding for one or two breaths on each side to warm up the muscles of the midsection.
4 DYNAMIC PIGEON POSE
Athletic performance coach Hannah Schultz recommends doing pigeon pose to stretch the glutes and the iliotibial, or IT, band that runs along the outer thigh. HOW TO DO IT: To get into this pose, fold your right knee in front of you on the floor so your knee is pointing out to the right slightly and the outside of your thigh and shin are on the floor. Extend your left leg behind you, keeping your leg straight and the top of your thigh, shin and foot on the ground. “You want to make sure that your hips stay level,” Schultz says. Make the stretch dynamic by adding in a torso twist. Bring your right hand up behind your right ear, then twist to your left so your elbow comes across your body. Repeat several times, then switch sides.
5 HIP CIRCLES
Your hips bear a lot of the brunt while you’re running, so opening up the joints and muscles of that area before hitting the pavement can help prevent injury. A few minutes of hip circles are an easy way to do this. HOW TO DO THEM: Stand with your hands on your hips and your feet hip-width apart. Begin to circle your hips in one direction, almost as if you’re hula-hooping. Make the circles wider and wider until you’re working your full range of motion. After about 6 to 10 rotations in one direction, switch directions. To deepen the stretch, for one round pause briefly at the front, back, left and right points in the circle.
6 ROUND-THE-WORLD LUNGES
Warm up and stretch all the major muscles of your legs by lunging in all directions. HOW TO DO THEM: Start with your left leg stationary and lunge backward with your right foot, holding the stretch for a moment, then come back to center and lunge forward with your right foot. Follow with a side lunge, lunging out to your right and holding for a moment. Last in the rotation, do what athletic performance coach Hannah Schultz calls a “curtsey lunge,” bringing your right leg behind your left leg and bending your knees as if you’re curtseying. Repeat this lunge pattern five times, then switch sides, lunging with your left leg. “I like to work every plane of motion,” Schultz says. “This helps to keep the hips as open as possible.”
7 CALF RAISES
Every time your foot leaves the ground during a run, your calf muscles contract to make that happen. Give them some pre-run love by doing a simple dynamic calf raise. HOW TO DO THEM: Stand on the edge of a stair facing in, so that only the balls of your feet are on the stair and your heels are hanging over the edge. Hold onto a stair rail for balance, if necessary. Rise up on your toes, 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 and then rise up again and repeat. You can also do the stretch on one foot at a time.
8 STORK STRETCH
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. HOW TO DO IT: 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. Repeat 3 to 5 times and switch sides. Triathlon coach Scott Seamster recommends keeping your torso upright and your head and shoulders aligned over your hips during the stretch. “You don’t need to crank it back as hard as you can,” Seamster says. In fact, it’s important to not overstretch before your workout. Just take the stretch to the point where you feel resistance, not pain or discomfort.
READY TO RUN?
Spend 8 to 10 minutes doing these 8 dynamic stretches before you head out for your run, recommends athletic performance coach Hannah Schultz. Triathlon coach Scott Seamster suggests saving static stretches, which you can hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes in stillness, for after your run to help speed recovery.