Here are six “dynamic stretches” to complete before running. You should use small movements for the first few repetitions before increasing your range of motion in later repetitions. You can also increase your movement speed as these exercises become easier. Complete all six of these while wearing your running shoes, to give you good footing for safety.
1. Walking Lunges
This stretch is what it sounds like. You alternately step with your left and right feet. Take a big step forward, drop your back knee so that it almost touches the ground, and make sure that your front knee stays behind the toes of your front foot. Keep your torso, neck, and head vertical, with your abdominal muscles tight. Repeat this to get twenty walking lunges.
2. Leg Lifts
These are leg lifts to the side, not to the front or back. Initially stand up straight on both feet, with arms akimbo and your shoulders level. Choose a leg, and swing it as if it were a pendulum ten times — out to your side and then across the front of your other leg and out to the other side. Then do the same ten repetitions with the other leg.
3. Butt Kicks
Stand up straight, take a small step forward, and, as you do, exaggerate your back kick so that your heel almost or actually touches your butt cheek (gluteal muscles on the same side as the kicking leg). Take a total of twenty steps — ten repetitions with each leg. To make this more difficult, do it while jogging instead of walking.
4. Pike Stretch
Begin with your knees on the ground and your palms flat on the ground immediately below your shoulders, as if you were about to crawl. Lift your hips so that your body forms what looks like an inverted V, or pike, resting on the ground. Both legs should be straight at this point. Lift your right foot, and rest the toes of your right foot on the heel of your left foot. Keep your left leg straight as you use your right foot to press your left heel toward the ground, with your left foot's toes curled up toward your left shin. Release and repeat this stretching of your left calf for a total of ten repetitions. Then switch feet to complete ten stretches of your right calf.
5. Hacky Sack
This stretch is named after the popular game played with one's feet and a small bean-bag-like item known as a Hacky Sack. Stand up straight, with your arms hanging down straight. Lift your right foot up, across and in front of you such that you can hit your left hand with your right foot without bending forward. Do this ten times, then switch legs, and do this ten times with your left foot hitting your right hand.
6. Toy Soldier
This stretch could also be called the Dictator Military Walk. Keep your torso, neck, and head upright as you walk with your knees straight. Swing your left arm in front of you so that it is parallel to the ground as you swing your right foot — with toes flexed — up to touch your left hand. Then take your next step so that your right arm is straight out in front of you and your straight left leg swings up so that your left toes touch your right hand. Take a total of twenty steps — ten repetitions on each side. To make this more difficult, do it while skipping instead of walking.
What are your favorite stretches? Please leave a comment here. Thanks!
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Important Update on 30 December 2013: Stretch because it feels pleasant. According to Paul Ingraham, a Registered Massage Therapist and editor of ScienceBasedMedicine.org, in his myth-busting “Quite a Stretch” article, “Stretching research clearly shows that a stretching habit isn't good for much of anything that people think it is.”