Aches, pains, tight muscles and stiff joints aren’t uncommon for runners, and one way to ease them—and improve your overall performance—is to practice yoga or stretch regularly.

But when is the best time to stretch; before or after the run? This is a hot topic of debate, and the answer depends on a number of factors. But first, let’s talk about why we should stretch or practice yoga in the first place.

“It takes more than strong legs and lungs to be a good runner”

Taking daily action to prevent injuries is huge, good balance is important, and a strong core is vital. Efficient breathing and a strong mindset also contribute to good running performance. Practising yoga or committing to a daily stretch routine is often the missing link for runners looking to develop these strong runner attributes.

The benefits of yoga and stretching for runners:

  1. Reduced muscle stiffness and tension
  2. Improved flexibility
  3. Improved range of motion in joints and better movement patterns
  4. Better circulation and energy
  5. Reduces stress, tension and anxiety
  6. Improved breathing

So with all the benefits yoga can bring runners, it certainly seems like doing yoga shortly before going for a run is a smart move. But there are many types of yoga and many different ways to stretch and choosing the right routine pre-run can make all the difference.

Completing a full yoga class or stretch routine prior to running is not something I (or other fitness experts) recommend. Muscles need to be able to withstand the physical load when running. They need to be strong and generate power for the activity. Stretching decreases the muscles ability to generate power and being too relaxed means they may not offer the stability required for the movement, and this can lead to injury.

What is important for runners pre-run is for muscles to be warm and to have the functional range of motion needed to perform the activity, so functional range is more important than flexibility and relaxed muscles. This is where a dynamic stretching warm-up can play an important role in your pre-run routine.

Dynamic stretching involves controlled, smooth movement of a limb with a gradual increase of the distance, speed and intensity, without going past a healthy range of motion.

A good example for runners is a leg swing, which helps to warm up the legs and mobilise the hip joint.

Top four dynamic stretches to try pre-run:

1. Leg Swings

Keep the pelvis stable and gentle swinging one leg forward and back and side-to-side, gradually increasing the range. WATCH HERE AND HERE.

2. Walking lunge and hip flexor stretch

Complete a slow walking lunge, at the bottom of each lunge hold a hip flexor stretch for 5-secs. Complete 1-min of walking lunges and hip flexor stretch, alternating each side WATCH HERE

3. Hip circles

Standing with feet hip distance, slowly circle the hips in one direction for 10-reps and back the opposite way for 10-reps. WATCH HERE.

4. Calf raises and stretch

Gently mobilise the ankle joint and warm the calf muscles with ankle circles, a calf stretch and calf raises.

A 3-min pre-run routine is all you need, Try incorporating these exercises into your warm-up before your next run and I’m sure you’ll feel and move better. 

Longer stretching routines and yoga classes are best-done post-run when you’re looking to reduce muscles stiffness or tension and settle the nervous system to a calm and relaxed state.

What to learn more? Ask me a question in the comments box below or download my e-book Stretching & Yoga – A guide for the everyday athlete, available on the website now.