Stretching is, oddly enough, a pretty controversial topic in the fitness community. What stretches are safe, when you should do them, if you should stretch at all—I’ve heard and read countless different opinions on what’s best, so I want to emphasize that this is my stretching routine for long-distance runs. I’m not saying it’s best or necessarily right for you. Here are some facts about stretching (that I believe to be true) that explain why:
- Stretching after your workout is more important than stretching before your workout. This is, to a certain extent, going to depend on the type of workout you’re doing. This also applies more to traditional, static stretching (holding a stretch for 30+ seconds) than to dynamic stretching. I think a warm-up is important before long runs, but I actually don’t think you should do static stretching at all until after. This isn’t just based on my personal experience either; there are studies showing that muscles can’t reach peak performance levels during a workout if they’ve been stretched beforehand.
- Only stretch tight muscles. This applies to static stretching and self-myofascial release (foam rolling). I like to dynamically stretch/warm-up all the muscles that are going to be used in my workout, but when it comes to really getting deep into post-run stretching and foam rolling, I just focus on the tight muscles. I could launch into a whole essay on muscle imbalances to explain more of the logic behind this, but I think that might actually deserve its own blog post. My calves are always exceptionally tight after long runs, so I focus a lot on them. And I only do the quad stretch pictured below if they’re tight from the previous day’s workout—otherwise I just focus on my hamstrings (always a little tight!).
So keeping all that in mind, here’s what I do before and after a long run (for me, a non-marathoner, I consider a long run to be anything over 5 miles):
PRE-RUN: DYNAMIC STRETCHING
I think of dynamic stretching as getting the blood flowing and warming up the muscles that are about to be worked. It’s continuous motion around a joint, as opposed to holding a stretch/position, and I typically do 10-20 reps of each movement (20 for the toe touches, calf pedaling, high knees, butt kickers; 10 for the hip circles, 5 in each direction).
POST-RUN: STATIC STRETCHING
This is “stretching” as people typically think of it. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds in order for it to be effective.
POST-RUN: FOAM ROLLING
My calves are always tight so I make sure to foam roll ‘em out. With the roller under my calf, I cross the foot on top of it, brace my bodyweight on my hands, and slowly roll up and down my calf. When I hit a tight spot (you know when you do)—I hold it there for at least 30 seconds, then continue to roll until I’ve hit all the little knots.
Three quick notes about my stretching routine that someone would probably call me out on if I weren’t to address them now…
1. I’m not warming up or stretching my upper body. I know—in an ideal world, I probably would. But I wanted to share what I actually do, and on most days, I don’t feel like stretching at all so just focus on the primary muscles used (running = lower body).
2. I’m statically stretching before foam rolling. I know that NASM and lots of fitness professionals advice foam rolling first in order to make the static stretching more effective (basically break up the knots first so that you can get deeper into the static stretch). I actually do see the benefit of that, but when it comes to my calves, I feel like my static stretching is limited more by the range of my ankle bones than my muscles, so I save the foam rolling for last (more convenient).
3. I should stretch/foam roll my IT/TFL bands—a typically tight area for runners. I know. But I’d be a big fat liar if I included it in this post because I never do. That’s what my weekly yoga class is for…right?
If you’re wondering how this differs from my stretching routine for my short runs, it’s simple: I don’t stretch if I’m just heading out for a quick 3 or 4 miles. I KNOW. I should. But there are only 24 hours in a day…and I am lazy.
I got the chance to team up with the awesome people over at Lands’ End and wear their Performance Sport Jacket in this post. I also have it in pink and blue color-block, and love both! I think the attached hood with a high-neck collar is a cool look, and you can never go wrong with thumbholes—am I right or amiright.
The looser fit was great for adding layers this winter, and I’ve now been wearing it with just a tank and shorts for cooler morning runs this spring. Lands’ End now has a whole activewear line, so be sure to check out these jackets as well as all their other gear!
Tell me about your post/pre-run stretching routine! How does it compare to mine? I know there are lots of different opinions on stretching, and even if you think my routine is stupid and misinformed, I want to hear about it—drop some knowledge in the comments section!
And I can’t not leave you with this (because honestly isn’t this how we all feel??)…