We all know that stretching before and after running can help prevent injuries and relax your body.
But which method of stretching do you use—static stretches or dynamic stretches? Below, we’ll explain what each one is, the differences between them, the pros and cons, and a few common stretches.
By the end of this article, you’ll know when to use static stretching and when to use dynamic stretching for the maximum benefit.
What is Static Stretching?
As the name implies, static stretches are exercises that aim to increase flexibility but do not involve active movement. It’s your typical “touch your toes” stretch. Typically, static stretches for runners work your calves, hip flexors, iliotibial band, and quads.
You’ll hold the stretches for about a minute, which will help increase the length of your muscles. But for long-term effects, you’ll need to do this on a regular basis when your body is at rest. If you do it right, though, you can help prevent injuries.
What is Dynamic Stretching?
Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, incorporates active movement. You have to move your limbs to complete these stretches. Unlike static stretches, dynamic stretches for runners best target glutes, hamstrings, and upper body/torso as well as hips and quads.
The idea of dynamic stretching is to prepare the body for movement (like running) and increase the length of the muscles in the short-term without losing any strength. (Some studies suggest that tighter muscles are stronger, and static stretching can actually decrease outright strength)
One athletic trainer notes that dynamic stretching is a great way to get the neurological system involved, which helps to activate your muscles. This means that your body will be able to respond more quickly to what you want it to do. According to this trainer, it’s like turning on a light switch. It helps your body get ready to go.
Pros and Cons of Static Stretching
Static stretching is great when your body is at rest. The idea is to give your muscles a deep stretch to help aid in recovery. You’ll also improve flexibility the more you do static stretches. It IS NOT the best way to warm up before a run. You’ll experience more of the benefits of static stretching after a run and during recovering.
Pros and Cons of Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretching is going to get your body moving, as you’re working key muscles with a full range of motion. Just like it’s helpful to allot 5-10 minutes to jog to warm up before your run, dynamic stretches will help you slowly warm up. But it’s not ideal when you finish your run because you’re trying to cool down.
When Should You Stretch?
Although views differ, the consensus is that a runner should use dynamic stretching before a run and static stretching after a run.
Many runners and trainers consider this to be the perfect combination because you’re getting your muscles fired up with dynamic stretching before your run and relaxing them after your run with static stretching.
3 Static Stretches You Can Include in Your Workout Routine
If you remember PE from high school, you can pull some static stretches out of your memory.
I do a variety of static stretches: toe touch, cross-legged toe touch, quad stretches, hamstring stretches, glutes stretches, groin stretches, lower back stretches, calf stretches, and side stretches.
1. Hamstring Stretch
I like this stretch because it can help you see the progress that you’re making. Start by sitting on the ground and extending your left leg out in front of you. Make sure your right leg is bent in, with your right foot touching your left knee.
Next, try to touch your left leg with your hands, which will stretch your hamstring. If you haven’t stretched for a while, you might not be able to reach your toes. Just go as far as you can. But as you get better, you’ll be able to get closer and closer to touching your toes. Remember to complete the stretch on the right leg too.
2. Groin Stretch
I always do a groin stretch, which you can accomplish sitting on the floor with the bottom of your feet touching. Bring your feet as close as you can to the groin while keeping your knees down.
3. Cross-Legged Toe Touch
This is the fancy version of the toe touch you learned in elementary school. While standing, cross your legs and attempt to touch your toes. You probably won’t be able to on the first try, but as you do the stretch more, you’ll get there. You might even get to the point where you can place the flat palm of your hand on the ground.
Then after you do this for at least 10-15 seconds, cross your legs again, putting the other foot in front and stretch that way. I like the cross-legged toe touch because I get a deeper stretch, and it works my muscles more than if I just did a normal toe touch.
3 Dynamic Stretches You Can Include in Your Workout Routine
I personally tend to include the following stretches into my warm-up routine: butt kicks, leg swings, high knees, Frankensteins, crawl stretch (or inchworm), and under-the-fence stretch.
I’m going to focus on the three that I have found most helpful: butt kicks, leg swings, and Frankensteins. I’ve found that if I don’t include the last two in particular, my run will hurt more.
1. Butt Kicks
Run forward and kick your feet back up high, so that they hit your butt with each step. The idea is to have short strides/steps and focus more on kicking your feet up as opposed to how fast you’re going. Repeat for a designated length. I do the length of my condo.
2. Leg Swings
You’ll need a wall or post or something to stabilize yourself when you complete this stretch. I lightly touch the wall on one side and the staircase on the other in my condo. Once you’re stable, swing your right leg back and forth at least 10 times and then switch to your left leg and repeat.
After completing this version, I’ll do the hip opener version and place my two hands on the door frame and swing my right leg in front of my left leg horizontally at least 10 times and then switch to the left leg in front of the right leg.
I’ve seen (and heard) a lot of names for this one: Straight Leg March, Nazi Zombie, etc. But it’s all the same stretch. Swing your right leg forward and touch your right foot with your left hand and then switch and swing your left leg forward and touch your left foot with your right hand, alternating for as long as you complete the stretch. I do the length of my condo.
In the end, both static and dynamic stretches are good for runners, but they are meant to be used at different times. Try out different options for yourself and see what’s best for you!