Ask any coach or trainer, and they’ll tell you stretching after every run is one of the most important ways to prevent injury. But which stretches are most important for runners? “When it comes to flexibility, every sport has specific needs,” says Brian Soo, physical therapist at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco. “With running, stretching the hip flexors is key; we’re a sit-a-lot society” says Soo.
Here are a few of Soo’s recommended post-race stretches:
To stretch these muscles along the front of your thigh, bend one leg up behind you so that your heel is behind your rear and grab your ankle. (Stabilize yourself on a fence, wall, or railing first.) Pull up and back until you feel a stretch, keeping your back straight. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, then switch legs.
To stretch the muscles along the back of your leg, lie down on your back and draw one knee into your chest. Slowly extend that leg straight up overhead, holding on to the back of your calf. Draw the leg as far as you can towards your chest (keeping it straight) and hold for 30 seconds.
To do a kneeling hip flexor stretch, go into a low lunge with your forward leg bent at a 90-degree angle, and lower your rear knee to the ground with your rear leg extended behind you. Keeping your forward knee aligned with your ankle, place your hands on your thigh and shift your weight forward until you feel a stretch in your hip. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.
Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor. Cross your right leg over your left thigh. Then with your your legs still in this position, pull the left leg toward your chest and hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat with the opposite leg.
It’s also important to stretch the upper back, Soo says. “That’s where we’re taking in oxygen so you want to have a flexible rib cage.” One simple way to do this is to cross one arm over the opposite shoulder and reach down as if trying to scratch your back. There are many other simple stretches and yoga poses that accomplish these goals, Soo says. Here is an extensive list of running stretches to try.
Another common mistake is to stretch only the sole of the foot, Soo says. “You need to keep the muscles of the foot in balance, and to do that you need to stretch the top of the foot as well.” All that’s required to do this: Hold each foot and bend it in an arc.