The five post-running stretches you can’t afford to miss out on

You’ll recover better and reduce your injury risk if you don’t skip stretching after a run.

Stretching after a run is good for exercise recovery as well as injury prevention. Here are five post-run stretches that fitness expert Christie Reilly recommends you do after every run.

Group of older runners stretching after a runCredit: Shutterstock/Yakobchuk Viacheslav
Squeezing in some stretching after a run could aid your recovery

Why stretching after a run matters

One of the not-so-nice parts of exercise is the lactic acid build-up you can get, which makes your muscles feel sore both during and straight after physical activity. This is why stretching after a run is so important, explains Christie Reilly, a fitness coach at F45 Training in Southend-on-Sea.

“Stretching after running helps to flush out some of the lactic acid that’s built up during high-impact exercise,” says Reilly. “Lactic acid is a result of glycolysis (the breakdown of glucose). It’s a system in the body that helps to create energy currency in the absence of oxygen in your muscle cells. When we run, our muscles require more oxygen than we are able to take in, and this, in turn, leads to lactic acid build-up.”

Too much lactic acid can cause painful cramping, stiffness and lead to delayed-onset muscle soreness. Reilly says increasing your threshold for lactic acid can be beneficial, as it will help to improve your running performance.

Full disclosure: several research studies have, in fact, found no evidence to prove that stretching after exercise will lead to better outcomes, like reduced soreness or better exercise performance the next day. One piece of research found that active cool-downs, like stretching, may have some small benefits compared with doing nothing, but that the effect is small.

Still, many people do find that stretching helps them to feel better after exercise. There’s very little research that even looks at how stretching helps older runners specifically. As long as you stretch properly, there’s unlikely to be any harm, and there could be some benefit from doing it.

Older runner sitting and stretching outdoors after a runCredit: Shutterstock/Dragana Gordic
Making time to stretch is a good way to unwind after exercise

It only takes five minutes

Static stretching, such as the five stretches Reilly recommends below, can particularly help to remove and flush out lactic acid, a metabolic by-product that can build up during exercise.

“Exercise in general causes stress on the body,” Reilly explains, “and the cooling-down process helps the body to re-establish its ability to function and recover from this stress. Over time, you’ll have a greater range of motion and an overall smoother and quicker recovery after exercise. It will also help to reduce the risk of injury.”

She adds that the five static stretches she recommends have been chosen as they mainly target the muscles that frequently get tight during and after a run.

Reilly’s five essential post-running stretches

Reilly recommends the following static stretches and says it’s a good idea to hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds. “Aim to go slightly deeper with each exhalation, but never force a stretch, as you may feel tighter some days compared to others,” she adds.

Woman demonstrates downward dog in a yoga studioCredit: Shutterstock/fizkes
This exercise is good for stretching the calf muscles

Downward dog

This is a yoga position where your hands and feet are on the floor and you make an upside down V-shape. It’s especially good for stretching the calf muscles. Here’s how to do it:

From your hands and knees, take your hands slightly further forwards and tuck your toes under. Exhale as you lift your knees off the mat and send your seat bones up towards the ceiling.

Keep your knees gently bent and focus on extending your chest and spine forwards to stretch the spine. Gently push your heels towards the mat and keep your neck relaxed between your arms.

Older woman doing the runner's lunge stretchCredit: Shutterstock/Prostock-studio
Runner’s lunge is also a good strengthening exercise

Runner’s lunge

“The runner’s lunge is a hip strength and stability pose,” Reilly explains. “It helps to strengthen the knee and ankle joints as well as the hip flexors, glutes, calves, groin and hamstrings, through the back leg extension.”

The main benefit of this type of lunge is the hip flexor stretch it provides, as your hip flexor helps to swing the leg forward and prepare for another foot strike during a run.

“It can be easy to neglect the hip flexor,” she adds. “Over time, this can create tightness that could affect your gait cycle, making you less efficient. It may also lead to a greater risk of injury or lower back.”

Here’s how to do it:

Stand facing forwards with your hands on your hips. Lunge forwards with your left leg and lower your body by flexing your right knee and hip until your right knee almost touches the floor. Keep your torso upright throughout.

Your lead knee should point forwards in the same direction as your foot, and shouldn’t move any further forward than your toes. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.

Active female doing a soleus (calf muscle) standing stretchCredit: Shutterstock/aijiro
Your Achilles tendon and calf muscles will appreciate this stretch

Soleus standing stretch

This is a great stretch for the calf muscles and the Achilles tendon. Here’s how to do it:

Lean into a wall and place the leg to be stretched further back than your other leg. While keeping your back foot pointed straight ahead towards the wall, and keeping your heel on the ground, flex the knee of the back leg. Just before your heel lifts from the ground, stop and hold the stretch for around 30 seconds. Try to allow the muscles of the lower calf to relax during the stretch. Do not bounce during the stretch.

“The key thing to remember when doing this stretch is to keep both knees bent, with the heels firmly on the floor,” Reilly advises.

Older runner demonstrates lying knees to chest stretch on a yoga matCredit: Shutterstock/Pressmaster
This is a good stretch for both your back and glute muscles

Lying knees to chest

“Hugging your knees to your chest has many great benefits post-running,” Reilly says. “It helps to loosen the lumbar and thoracic spine, alongside all three of the glutes’ main muscles. It also gently massages the abdomen, helping to improve circulation and rebalancing the energy system.”

Here’s how to do it:

Lying on your back, bring your knees up towards your chest and hug them. Alternatively, you can bring one knee up at a time and benefit from an additional full leg stretch, which is great for your hip flexors and quad muscles. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds and you should feel a nice stretch in your lower back.

Middle-aged black lady doing bridge poseCredit: Shutterstock/Krakenimages.com
This stretch helps to strengthen your core and glute muscles

Bridge pose

“This pose is a very gentle backbend that works to open the chest,” Reilly explains. “This stretch also strengthens the core. It’s also great for the glutes, due to the hip extension it provides, as well as the quadriceps. Each of these areas are extremely important when running.”

Here’s how to do it:

Lying on your back, bend both knees and place your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart. Stretch your arms down either side of your body with your palms facing down. Press your feet into the floor, inhale and lift the hips up as you roll your spine off the floor. Press down into your arms and shoulders to help lift the hips higher. Pause and hold for four to eight breaths. To release, exhale and slowly roll your spine back to the floor.

Julie Penfold

Written by Julie Penfold she/her

Published:

Julie Penfold has been a specialist health and wellbeing journalist for more than 15 years and has been a finalist in three prestigious health and medical journalism awards during that time. She has written for a wide variety of health, medical, wellbeing and fitness magazines and websites. These have included Running, TechRadar, Outdoor Fitness, Be Healthy, Top Sante, Doctors.net.uk and The Guardian’s Social Care network.

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