Photo courtesy of Spark People
Running can be great for you, but it can also put stress on your body—especially the lower limbs and joints. The following stretches target the muscles runners use most...and not only will they help improve your running performance, but they'll prevent the aches and pains runners commonly experience. P.S. - One of the most important things to remember is to stretch warm muscles and SparkPeople's fitness experts recommend stretching after you workout; this is when your muscles are warmest and your joints are lubricated, so they're primed to stretch.
Hamstrings Stretch Runners are notorious for tight hamstrings that can cause lower back problems and lead to pulled muscles. Tight hamstrings also limit your range of motion, which can affect running stride, form and speed. To improve hamstring flexibility, try this lying hamstring stretch, which keeps the spine neutral whereas basic toe touches (forward bends) do not, thereby reducing risk of low back pain.
|Lie on your back with your legs extended and your back straight. Keep your hips level and your lower back down on the floor. Bend your right knee towards your chest, keeping your left leg extended on the floor.Slowly straighten your right knee, grabbing the back of your leg with both hands. Pull your leg towards your gently while keeping both hips on the floor. Breathe deeply and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side. To reduce the intensity of this stretch, bend the knee of the stretching leg.|
Quadriceps Stretch Stretching the quads forces your hamstrings to contract, helping them get stronger. It's important to have strong and flexible quads since these muscles help lift your knees and increase your speed. This standing quad stretch is into to incorporate after a run, and once you master this, you can carefully pull your thigh and knee slightly behind your body (not pictured) for a greater hip flexor stretch at the same time.
|Stand tall, holding onto a chair or wall for balance if necessary (not pictured). Keep your feet hip-width apart, your back straight and your feet parallel. Reach back and grab your left foot in your left hand, keeping your thighs lined up next to each other and left leg in line with the hip (not pulled back behind you).Breathe deeply and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.|
Piriformis Stretches Your piriformis muscle is responsible for the rotation of the hip. Although it's very important in activities that frequently change direction, it tends to tighten up in runners. If the piriformis becomes too tight or spasms, it can irritate the sciatic nerve, which causes pain in the glutes, lower back and thighs. To prevent these issues, try these two stretches:
|Lie on your back with your legs extended and your back straight. Keep your hips level and your lower back down on the floor. Bend your left knee, placing left foot flat on the floor (not pictured). Cross your right ankle at your left knee. Grab the back of your left thigh and hug your legs towards your chest. Place your right elbow on the inner portion of your right knee and push it slightly to the side. Breathe deeply and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side. To reduce the intensity of this stretch, don’t bring your legs towards your chest as much.|
|Lie on your back with your legs extended and your back straight. Keep your hips level and your lower back down on the floor. Bend your right knee towards your chest, grabbing it with your left hand. Place your right hand out to the side. Keeping your shoulder blades square (on the mat) use your left hand to guide your right knee across your body and towards the floor on your left side. Breathe deeply and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side. Don’t force your knee to the floor if your flexibility does not allow it.|
Keep reading for more stretches runners should do! More from Spark People: