Should you stretch before a run? It’s a common question – with a nuanced answer, because the answer depends on what type of stretches you plan to do before running. While static stretching is not ideal for before a run, sport specific dynamic stretches before running can reduce oxygen cost and rate of perceived exertion.
Should I Do Stretches Before Running?
Should you stretch before a run? It depends on what type of stretching you are doing.
There are two different types of stretches: static stretching and dynamic stretching. Static stretching brings your muscles to the furthest point of their range of motion, with the goal of improving flexibility. Dynamic stretching moves your muscles through their range of motion, with the goal of improving mobility. (You can learn more about dynamic stretching in this article.) Unlike static stretches, you do not hold dynamic stretches for a long period of time.
Static stretching prior to running is detrimental to performance (read more here). Additionally, no evidence indicates that static stretches before running mitigate injury risk. Logically, it makes sense – flexibility is not a desired trait for a sport that relies on the stretch-shortening cycle for optimal performance. Dynamic stretching, however, can improve performance and reduce injury risk by ensuring optimal mobility before running. According to a 2021 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, dynamic stretching significantly (p<0.01) improved running economy and reduced perception of effort when performed before a run.
What Are Sport-Specific Dynamic Stretches to Use Before Running?
Dynamic stretches should be sport specific, which means they should target the muscles and movement patterns used. A runner would not benefit from the same warm-up as a collegiate basketball player, for example. Dynamic stretches before a run should target the muscles most used during running. The muscles used in hip extension, knee flexion, ankle dorsiflexion and upper body postural muscles should all be addressed in a dynamic warm-up.
Runners should pay close attention to perform dynamic stretches on areas that are commonly tight (whether due to overuse or interactivity) before their runs. These areas are commonly the hips and scapula.
Limited range of motion through the scapula (shoulder blades) inhibits arm swing while running. f you look at elite runners, you will notice they drive their arms back with each stride. Driving your arms back maintains a neutral spine, opens your chest for better breathing, and encourages hip extension.
Tight hips do not extend fully, yet tight hips are overwhelmingly common in 21st-century life. Without a full hip extension, you lose the power of a hip drive and are more likely to overstride. Warming up your hips by moving them through a full range of motion before a run encourages that same full ROM on a run. Limited ROM can increase injury risk and decrease power output on runs.
Dynamic Stretches Before Running for Mobility
You can choose from dozens of various activation exercises (such as these dynamic stretches for runners and these four ideas for how to warm up for a run). These are sample exercises you can include in a pre-run warm-up routine.
Whenever you do dynamic stretches, be mindful to move in a controlled manner. You should not bounce around and should not push past your range of motion.
Leg Swings: Leg swings are one of the simplest yet most effective stretches to do before running. Leg swings move the hip joint through a full range of motion across two planes – the sagittal plane (front to back) and the frontal plane (side to side). You can use a wall or tree to stabilize as needed, then simply swing your leg from the hip. Gradually increase motion as you progress through the reps. Aim for 8-10 reps per side per direction.
Walking Knee Lift: A walking knee lift warms up the muscles involved in both knee flexion, hip flexion, and ankle flexion. You want to gradually increase your range of motion throughout the repetitions. Flex your hip and knee simultaneously to draw your bent knee up; step forward with that leg, and then repeat on the other side. Alternate for 5-10 steps per leg.
Single Leg Hamstring Stretch: This dynamic stretch ensures full mobility of your hamstrings, which is vital for hip extension. Begin standing on both feet, then hinge at the hips as you raise one leg off the ground and straight behind you. The other leg will have a slight end in the knee. Return to start and then repeat on the other leg, for 5-10 reps per leg. This can be done in a static position or stepping forward with each rep.
Lateral Lunges: Lateral lunges activate the glutes and adductors, enhance range of motion, and mobilize the hips within the frontal plane. Step your right leg out to the side with your right knee over your right foot and lower your hips down and back. Maintain a straight back by allowing yourself to hinge slightly at the hips. Push off of your right foot to return to standing and repeat with your left leg. Alternate for 5-8 reps per leg.
Arm Swings: Arm swings stretch the muscles in the chest and upper back. Stand tall with your arms straight and bring them together in front of you at waist height. Contract your upper back muscles to swing your arms back as far as you safely can, then swing forward again. Complete 5-8 reps.
Since I started doing a dynamic warm up pre run, it’s made a huge difference! I’ve also started foam rolling my calves and back as part of my warm up. For some reason I never thought of using it BEFORE only after. I feel so much better starting out.
Foam rolling feels so good on the calves before a run!
I feel so much better on my run when I do a dynamic warm up first! I need to pay more attention to opening up my shoulders. Arm swings seem like a great way to do that! Thanks for sharing the link to my post!
Arm swings feel so good before a run – now that I do them, I notice a difference if I skip them!
I always do a 5 minutes dynamic warm-up before every run, and then when I get home I do 5-10 minutes static stretching and foam rolling. Before workouts and races, I also do 5-10 minutes of drills and strides. It really makes a huge difference!
It really does make a huge difference!
I try to do the dynamic warm ups every time before I run but, like today, I didn’t lol. It definitely makes a difference though, especially when you are tight or sore from a previous day’s workout. For races I definitely do it!
It’s a must before races!
These are some great moves! I need to add them to my list!
I hope they help you!
I am so bad at not warming up – but that is probably one of the many reasons why I am injury prone LOL. Thanks for the tips!
Warming up won’t completely prevent injury, but it does reduce the risk!
I’ve been taking my warm-up really seriously lately and I have a little warm up routine to get me ready… usually it’s high-knee walking in place, leg swings, ankle rolling, backward lunges, squads, arm swings and clap jacks or jumping jacks.
That sounds like a great warm-up routine!
I think doing walking lunges as a warmup has really made a difference with my running! Now I definitely want to add in arm swings – I think that will definitely help with my posture and hopefully ease my occasional shoulder pain!
I bet the arm swings would help with your shoulder pain! I have chronically tight shoulders and I’ve noticed less tightness in them during runs.
I was great about dynamic warm ups when I was marathon training, but haven’t been so good about it lately. Thanks for the reminder!
They’re easy to skip, but so valuable to remember!
I don’t think a lot of runners realize the importance of warming up the upper body as well as the lower body! Great tips!
Thank you! I agree – I don’t think a lot of runners realize the importance!
The movements seem to be a bit easier after warming up compared to not warming up…thanks for sharing…great tips!
how do i do the things you speak off miss norris
Hello! There should be video demos visible within the body of the article.