Village Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Shellharbour

Stretching for runners – Importance of a warm up and cool down.

stretching and running

There is a lot of controversy in stretching at the moment, with ever-changing opinions of health professionals and researchers. The benefits of stretching include building flexibility, relieving muscle tension, improving range of motion, advancing muscular coordination, reducing recovery time and aiding in injury prevention.

An important biomechanical factor to consider during running which is different to walking is the ‘floating’ during the swing phase of gait, where neither foot is in contact with the ground, this causes the vertical ground reaction forces to double compared to walking, leading to greater stress on the lower limb.

How do I remember when to stretch and what type:

– dynamic stretching before your run to loosen up muscles and prepare the body for running

– static stretching at the end of your run, as the muscles should be warmed for this type of stretching.

Warm Up: use dynamic stretching where you move through a range of motion. This is aiming to warm up the muscles, increase the blood flow and oxygen supply to the muscles and prepare the muscles and body for running by slowly raising your heart rate to minimise stress on your heart when you start running.

  • Hip circles: stand with hip width apart, and move hip in a circle. 10 times in each direction.
  • Leg swings: forward and back, and side to side
  • Walking lunges: Step a long stride forward with one leg and drop your back knee to the ground, ensure the front knee does not go over your toes. Then step forward with opposite leg. Create a flowing motion, 10 on each side
  • Bum kicks: walk then into run
  • Walking out the calves in down dog position
  • Walk or jog 5-10 minutes before starting to speed up your pace into a run

Cool down is just as important as the warm up: static stretching holding each muscle group for 25-30second on each side, 1-3 times

  • Walk or jog last 5-10 minutes of your run
  • Hamstring stretch: Tight hamstrings are common in runners due to the increased anterior tilting of the pelvis. Tight hamstrings can also limit range of motion leading to changes in running stride, form and speed.
  • Quadriceps stretch: Stretching the quads leads to contraction of the hamstrings and also improves the ROM at the hip and knee.
  • Hip flexor stretch: Tight hip flexors can lead to lower back pain
  • Piriformis/ glute stretch: These muscles work to generate power while running and also increase you stride length by creating a large hip extension motion. Trigger points in these muscles can create referred pain into your lower back and hips.
  • Calf stretch: Reduce chances of shin pain or shin splints and also improves stride length by allowing more movement in the ankle joint.
  • IT band stretch: Prevents knee problems.

Important to remember:

  • Never push through a stretch if it hurts!
  • If you need any help with how to stretch the muscle groups mentioned above please let us know.

Fun fact: Research shows that running burns about 50% more calories than walking the same distance.

Now go for a run and enjoy the fresh air!


Brukner and Khan’s clinical sports medicine, by Peter Brukner and Karim Khan

By Amy Kivell (Osteopath)