Research shows some simple prep work and stretches can ward off injury—and make you faster.
Running is one of my favorite ways to sweat, but there is a dark side to my healthy exercise habit: I don’t stretch. This makes me prone to tight legs, achy joints, and a nagging pain in my left hip.
Not a surprise, according to Jeff Brannigan, Chief Stretch*r at Stretch*d, a studio dedicated to flexibility and mobility in NYC. “Running can put tremendous stress on the joints throughout the body,” he says. Research shows that runners who stretch regularly encounter fewer of these issues. And that they get faster when they routinely include stretches targeted for runners.
So, as the Editor-in-Chief of Women’s Health, I committed to improving my personal well-being with the very best stretches out there.
“Taking time to stretch prerun will help to prep the muscles for activity by promoting blood flow to warm up the muscles and lubricate the joints,” says Brannigan. “Postrun, it will help to elongate the muscles and flush out metabolic waste that is produced in the muscle as a result of exercise.” Translation: Running stretches speed up recovery.
This series of dynamic stretches from Brannigan made me feel less blah and improved my speed by about 10 seconds per mile. Hold each stretch for a few seconds before and after your run. You’ll thank us when you feel better afterwards—and run smoother (and faster!). All you need is a yoga strap, rope, or resistance band, plus a flat surface.
1. Neck lateral flexors
How to: Looking straight ahead, lower your right ear toward your right shoulder. With your right hand, reach over the top of your head, placing your fingertips on your left temple. Gently assist in pushing your head toward your shoulder. Repeat a few times; then repeat on the opposite side.
2. Calf stretch
How to: Place the ball of your right foot into the loop of your strap. Raise leg so it’s almost perpendicular to the surface you’re on. Flex the foot by pointing toes toward your chest. After a few seconds, relax by pointing toes toward the ceiling before repeating the movement. Repeat on the opposite side.
3. Glute stretch
How to: Lie flat on your back with both legs extended straight out. Rotate your left leg toward the midline of your body by pointing your toes inward to stabilise hips. Lift your right leg and bend the knee, guiding ankle toward opposite shoulder, keeping pelvis flat on the surface. Place one hand on the outside of the right thigh and the other outside shin to guide the stretch. Hold; repeat a few times. Repeat on the opposite side.
4. Bent knee hamstring stretch
How to: Place right foot into loop of the strap. Lift right leg, thigh perpendicular to the surface, and calf parallel to the surface. Hold for a few seconds, pushing against the loop. Now gradually extend leg toward the ceiling. Use the strap for gentle assistance at the end of the stretch. Hold for a few seconds; repeat. Repeat on the opposite side.
5. Double hip tilt
Lie on your back. Bend both knees with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your knees/thighs. Lift your legs toward your chest until you can go no further. Gently assist with your hands, but don’t pull. Repeat a few times.
6. Hamstring stretch
How to: Place right foot into loop of the strap. Lift right leg until thigh is perpendicular to the surface you’re lying on. Gradually extend your leg by contracting your quads. Use the strap for gentle assistance at the end of the stretch. Hold for a few seconds; repeat. Repeat on the opposite side.
7. Internal hip rotation
How to: In a seated position, place the right foot into the loop of the strap. Pull ends of strap around outside of the ankle and behind the calf. Grasp strap in the left hand. Place right hand on top of your thigh at the knee to stabilise it. Rotate your thigh outward, pivoting your lower leg inward and leading with your heel. Repeat a few times, then switch sides.
8. Adductor sweep
How to: Lie on your back and place the right foot into loop of the strap. Looping both ends of the strap inside ankle, and behind the knee. Grasp strap with both hands by the right outer thigh. Lock that knee. Extend right leg out from the side of your body, leading with your heel. Keep slight tension in the strap and use it for gentle assistance. Repeat a few times, then switch sides.
9. Abductor sweep
How to: Lie on your back with both legs extended straight out. Place right foot into the loop of the strap, and wrap it around the outside of the ankle so that the opposite ends are on the inside of the leg. Lock that knee. Rotate left leg inward slightly and rotate the right leg outward slightly. Extend your exercising leg across the midline of your body, leading with your heel and keeping a slight bend in your knee. Repeat a few times, then switch sides. Repeat a few times, then switch sides.
10. Hip abductor sweep
How to: Lie on your back and place the right foot into the loop of the strap. Lock that knee. Extend your exercising leg across the midline of your body, leading with your heel and keeping a slight bend in your knee. Keep slight tension in the strap. Repeat a few times.