8 Feel-Amazing Stretches Every Runner Should Know

Photographed by Molly Cranna.
The mental euphoria you feel at the end of a run might be out-of-this-world amazing, but even a runner's high isn't enough to mask the fact that running can make your muscles feel pretty bad. Running puts a lot of strain on all the muscles in your legs and feet, and when you do that over and over again for sustained periods of time on the pavement or on a treadmill, you have to stretch to undo some of the damage.

But what should you stretch? "The main muscles and muscle groups worked when you run are the quads, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, and glutes," says Rachel Mariotti, a Tier III+ personal trainer and Precision Running Coach at Equinox. Your running routine should ideally be flanked by two stretch sessions: dynamic or moving stretches pre-run, and static or holding stretches afterwards, she says. In a perfect world, you'd also add some strength training and yoga into your workout routine to vary things up, but that's not always doable, so stretching it is. "The impact of running is very high, so strong muscular support is needed for your joints," Mariotti says.

Here are some stretches you can do to help your muscles recover post-run — whether that means a trot around the cul de sac or a few miles on the treadmill. We can't guarantee they'll make you actually like running, but they will make you feel a little better.
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Slow-motion marching

Try this dynamic stretch before you run. Stand with your hands on hips or behind your head. Step forward with your right foot and lift left knee to chest; step foot down in front of you and switch sides. Take 10 steps forward.

You can also add in your arms to "get dialed into your form," says Natalie Johnson, a NASM-certified personal trainer and running coach with Run F.I.T. Swing them the same way you would while running — with arms at 90-degree angles, hands in loose fists — with the opposite arm forward when your leg is lifted.
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Straight-leg walks

Start standing with legs hip-width apart, arms straight up to the ceiling. Step forward with left leg, then kick your right leg up to hip height, reaching your left hand down toward your right foot. Repeat for 10 steps.

"This activates your hip flexor muscles and your glutes before you run," Mariotti says. It also loosens up your hamstrings, which tend to get tight while you run.
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Calf stretch

Stand facing a wall, with feet about a foot away from the wall. Extend your right leg back behind you until your heel touches the floor, bending your left knee slightly. Keeping right leg straight, press against the wall for 10 to 20 seconds, making sure you feel a stretch in your calf. Switch sides, repeat.

"Even though your calves are the smallest of the muscle groups worked in running, they're one of the most important," says Corinne Fitzgerald, a NCSA-certified personal trainer and coach at Mile High Run Club. Stretch your calves before you run and definitely after.
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Quadriceps stretch

Stand with one hand resting on a stable chair, table, or counter for balance. Bend right leg behind you, bringing your heel to your butt. Hold onto your right foot or ankle (whichever you can reach easily) for 10 seconds. Switch sides, repeat.

You might notice your quads are on fire after you run for the first time in a while, and that's likely because they're not used to working so hard and are a little weak. Strong (and stretched!) quads will help prevent injury down the road, says Mariotti.
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Hip flexor stretch

Stand a few feet away from a wall, with your back facing the wall. Extend right leg behind you until your foot is flat on the wall, and bend your left knee. You should feel the stretch in the front of your right hip, near your hip flexor. Switch sides and repeat.

The reason why your hip flexors get so tight when you're running is because you're constantly bringing your thighs up and forward to move — all that strain means you need to stretch them out at the end of the run, says Fitzgerald.
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Figure-4 stretch

Lie on your back and hug both knees into your chest. Bring your left ankle over your right knee, and hug your right leg from underneath your thigh. Keep left knee open as you bring your right thigh closer to you. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.

Your piriformis is a sneaky little muscle in your butt that tends to get really overworked when you run. A stretch like this or a pigeon pose will open up your hips and hip flexors, says Fitzgerald. Do this after your run and you'll feel what we're talking about.
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Downward dog

Start on all fours and walk hands out in front of you, palms down. Keeping your arms straight, pike hips up and straighten legs until heels are as close to flat on the floor as possible. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.

Your hamstrings and calves are begging for this yoga pose after a run. If your heels aren't touching the floor, don't worry about it, since you can always pedal them in-place until they get closer, Fitzgerald says.
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Standing IT-band stretch.

Standing upright, cross your right foot over your left, making sure both feet are planted on the floor, then bend forward at the hips until your hands reach the floor (or close to it). Hold for about 20 to 30 seconds, then switch your feet and repeat. (You can find this stretch at the 3:48 mark in this video.)

You'll feel a pretty intense, deep stretch from your outer hip down to your knee on the leg that's in front — that's your IT band you're feeling, says Fitzgerald. Your IT band is in charge of stabilizing your knee, so it tends to feel overworked or tight at the end of a run. This stretch is a smart thing to do after your run.
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