I never thought I’d be a runner, like, ever. I decided running wasn’t for me after constantly losing my breath in middle and high school gym classes. Fast forward more than 10 years: I just completed my first 10K and am training for a half-marathon. Much to my surprise, I’ve become someone who pays to run and, after repeatedly hitting snooze, wakes up early to put in a few miles before work.
Something else I now do on the reg? Stretch. While warm-ups and cool downs are important whenever you work out, I’ve learned that you should definitely not skip stretching before and after running—especially when you’re getting accustomed to using new muscles. Why? “It’s important to start with some dynamic stretches before a run in order to lubricate the joints in the ankles and hips,” says Debora Warner, founder and CEO of Mile High Run Club. “Stretching after a run is also important, because muscles can become tight with repetitive use or intensity. It’s a good way to reset, relax, and begin recovery,” she adds.
Below, 6 stretches Warner and other pros recommend doing before and after a run.
Hip circles: Before you hit the ground running, do Warner’s favorite pre-run stretch. Start with your feet wide, toes forward, and your hands on hips. Now circle your hips four or five times clockwise and counterclockwise.
Deep squat to rise: Karena Dawn and Katrina Scott, the founders of Tone It Up, recommend this stretch for warming up your lower back, hamstrings, quads, and hips. Begin in a deep squat with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and your elbows pressing your inner thighs. Lower your hands to the ground and straighten your legs. One vertebrae at a time, raise to a standing position. Then open your arms out to the sides and raise them to meet above your head. Lower your arms back down and bring your palms to your heart center before lowering into a squat. Repeat five times.
Dynamic runners’ lunges: Rachel Mariotti, a precision running instructor at Equinox, recommends doing this move to warm up your hamstrings and stretch your hips. Start standing, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step backward with one leg, then drop into a lunge, bending at both knees to form 90-degree angles with your legs. Stand back up, and repeat five times on each side.
Calf and hamstring stretch: Mariotti recommends this two-in-one stretch. Put the ball of your foot on a curb (with your heel on the ground) or the edge of a treadmill so your heel hangs off and you feel a stretch in your calf. Reach down to your toes while you stretch to get a good hamstring stretch as well, then repeat on the other side.
Foam roller: Consider this piece of equipment your post-run BFF. Mariotti recommends a vibrating foam roller, but a static one will work as well. Start by sitting on the roller and move it slowly down each leg to loosen any tension that was built up during your run. This’ll release tightness in your hamstrings, calves, and quads.
Figure four: Warner says not to forget to stretch your piriformis, a muscle in your glute region, because if it’s tight, it can lead to pain in your lower back, hamstrings, or nerves. While sitting on a bench or chair, cross your right leg over your left so the ankle rests on the opposite knee. Press gently on the bent right knee for a deeper stretch. Repeat a few times on each side.