If you don't know how to stretch for running, then you're risking shortening your muscles and hampering your ability to run effectively. Stretches for runners work primarily on the muscles of the legs. Here are some good basic stretches for runners who'd like to know how to stretch.
Why Runners Should Stretch
Runners, like any other athlete or anyone who wants to get and stay in shape, should stretch. If runners don't stretch, their muscles become tighter and shorter, and the length of their stride decreases. Stretching lengthens the runner's stride so that they can cover more distance without doing more work.
Lunges are one of the most important stretches that runners do. Lunges can be performed one of two ways - the rear knee may be held aloft, or it may be dropped to the floor for an intense stretch in the thigh and hip flexor. Lunges help lengthen your hip flexor and groin muscles. These muscles must be strong and flexible for fast running and running uphill.
Perform lunges by starting on your hands and knees. Bring one foot forward between your hands; keep your hands on the ground. Extend the other leg and either keep it aloft, balancing on the toe, or drop the knee to the ground to intensify the stretch. To stretch the groin, turn the rear foot so that the toes point out to one side.
Quad stretches loosen and lengthen the muscles on the front of your thighs. Stretch your quads by standing on one foot, grasping the other foot, and pulling it back until it touches the buttocks. Keep the bent knee pointed straight at the ground. Hold onto a wall or a piece of furniture to balance yourself if you need to.
Toe touches work on your hamstrings, to keep the muscles long. Hamstrings are the most important muscle group runners use, so strong, flexible hamstrings are important.
To perform toe touches safely, keep your knees slightly bent. Performing toe touches with locked knees can lead to hyperextension of the joint, which can have crippling effects. Lean forward and reach for your toes. Be careful to remain centered on both feet; don't sway forwards or backwards.
Don't push yourself to reach further than you need to for a comfortable stretch; straining to touch your toes can cause lower back injury. If you can't reach your toes, simply allow your head and arms to dangle so that the stretch can move into your lower back. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your neck long. Hold the stretch for thirty seconds and come up slowly and carefully. Remember that you might feel light headed after performing this stretch.
Splits stretch the adductors, which are the muscles of the inner thigh. These muscles are an important part of the hip flexor muscle group.
Perform splits by standing with your feet parallel and spread as far apart as is comfortably possible. Bend forward and place your palms or fingertips on the ground. Relax into the stretch and sink forward until your head touches the ground.