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7 Essential Leg Stretches for Everyone (Especially Runners)

by  | Dec 1, 2020 | ExerciseFlexibilityMassage TherapyPhysiotherapyPhysiotherapy in AdelaidePilatesSportsStrengthWellbeing |



Why leg stretches are important: 

If we use runners (or walkers, or anyone who plays sport!) as an example, we know that certain leg muscles (in particular) are repetitively contracted which means they are consistently in a SHORTENED position. Over time these muscles ADAPT to being in this shortened position which causes areas of tension and imbalance. 

As physios, we know that whenever there is imbalance in the body, there are areas of reduced loading and areas of INCREASED loading – which can lead to injury. Common areas that excess loading may be “stored” include the plantar fascia, shins, knees, kneecaps, hips and back. 

In order to keep the body tuned and keeping moving for the long, LONG term, a balance in your muscles’ length is vital. This  program has been specifically designed to target the major muscle groups involved in running and in doing so keep your running legs moving for longer. 

What stretches would we recommend … and WHY?! 

1. Knee to chest 

Focus: Gluteus maximus 

Why: The biggest muscle in the human body! Generates power to launch the body into flight. Also an important muscle to keep supple for hip and lower back flexibility. 

2. Figure-4 stretch 

Focus: Gluteus medius, piriformis

Why: Assist to keep the pelvis and hips stable when running, but if they are too tight the pelvis & hips can become rigid. 

3. Side-lying driver stretch

Focus: Quadriceps 

Why: These muscles extend the front leg forward as you stride and absorb the impact force of landing from the knees. Flexible quads will help to reduced tension in the knees. 

4. Butterfly stretch

Focus: Short adductors 

Why: Your short adductors support the stability of the pelvis and hips as you run – working in synergy with the gluteus medius. Keeping them flexible can help reduce groin pain. 

5. Long sitting ankle release 

Focus: Talocrural joint, subtalar joint, calcaneocuboid joint & talonavicular joint

Why: Many joints make up the ankles! The repetitive loading of the ankles while running can cause stiffness in any one of these joints which will reduce the power output from the legs to the ground as well as creating the potential for injury.  

6. Long sitting outer lower leg stretch 

Focus: Fibularis longus & brevis

Why: These muscles help to stabilise the ankles and arches and can become tight – particularly when running on uneven ground or grass. 

7. All-4s calf stretch 

Focus: Gastrocnemius, soleus 

Why: The calves are responsible for launching the body forward by lifting the heel while pressing the body weight in front of the ball of the foot. This can generate a lot of muscle tension and tightness over time!  

8. Kneeling hamstring stretch 

Focus: Hamstrings 

Why: The hamstrings bend the knee and extend the hip (draw the leg behind you) as you take off running. This repetitive contracting will cause tightness over time if not regularly stretched.

9. All-4’s gate stretch 

Focus: Long adductors 

Why: Your long adductors support the stability of the pelvis, hips and knees as you run and assist with both absorbing the impact of landing and the explosive power of take-off. Especially when going up or down hills! 

10. Lunge

Focus: Hip flexors (iliopsoas) 

Why: In a stride, the front leg hip flexor raises the thigh up while the back hip flexor is stretched. Keeping the hip flexors flexible will help increase stride length.

11. Kneel sitting 

Focus: Tibialis anterior (shin muscles), quads  

Why: The shin muscles take much of the impact of landing and control the smooth transition from your heel to toes as you glide over the pavement! The repetition of running will build tension and tightness in these muscles over time. 

When should you stretch??!! 

Before, after and between runs! 

  • DYNAMIC stretches are done before exercise to assist with warming up the muscles and preparing them for movement and exercise. 

Examples within this program are; beating the legs in the butterfly stretch or bouncing back and forth in the kneeling calf stretch. 

  • STATIC stretches are completed after or between (e.g. a “stretch session”) exercise by holding the stretch for greater than 30 seconds to achieve greater length and stretch tolerance in the target muscle(s).


7 Essential Leg Stretches for Everyone (Especially Runners) - Therapia