6 best warmup stretches for runners

When it comes to preparing for a run, studies suggest that warming up with dynamic stretches can improve power and performance.

Static stretches are the “hold and stretch” variety, which involve holding a position for 5–10 seconds.

Dynamic stretches are active exercises developed to improve the range of motion. They also raise the temperature of the muscles and improve blood flow.

In this article, we look at six essential stretches to do before a run. We also describe which exercises are ineffective and discuss the do’s and don’ts of stretching.

1. Brisk walking

Brisk walking may not seem like a stretch, but it can effectively warm and stretch the muscles.

Walk at a brisk pace for 1–2 minutes. The pace should be quicker than that of a regular walk, but not so quick that it feels like a light jog.

Once the muscles start to feel more warm and loose, a person can begin a set of dynamic stretches.

2. Knee reach

The knee reach is the start of a three-part reach series. These exercises mimic some of the movements of running. The knee reach stretches the abdominal muscles, hips, shoulders, and quadriceps.

To perform the knee reach:

Repeat the exercise 5–10 times on each leg.

The overhead reach is another range-of-motion exercise that involves light lunging. Instead of reaching forward, a person will reach upward.

This exercise stretches the abdominal muscles, shoulders, and quadriceps.

To perform the overhead reach:

Repeat the exercise 5–10 times on each leg.

4. Rotational reach

The rotational reach is the third part of the reach series. This exercise warms up the muscles used in the rotating, swinging motion of running.

The rotational reach stretches the abdominal muscles, shoulders, arms, and quadriceps.

To perform the rotational reach:

Repeat this exercise 5–10 times on each side.

5. Butt kicks

Butt kicks are another dynamic stretching exercise. They involve stretching the front of the legs while jogging at a light pace.

To perform butt kicks:

Continue this exercise for 15–30 seconds.

6. Knee lifts

This exercise may seem like the opposite of butt kicks. Instead of kicking the legs backward, a person will bring the knees upward, stretching the hips and gluteal muscles.

To perform knee lifts:

Perform this exercise for 15–30 seconds.

Do’s and don’ts of stretching

Before going for a run, a person should:

  • always do a short warm-up session
  • start the session with a brisk walk, followed by dynamic stretches
  • make dynamic stretching movements as fluid and continual as possible

A person should not:

  • start running until the muscles and joints feel loose and warm
  • lunge too deeply during the warmup session
  • stretch to the point of pain — stretching should not be painful

Exercises to avoid

While static stretches can enhance flexibility, they are best at the end of a run.

As the run ends, a person should slow their pace for 5 minutes. This helps to reduce the heart rate gradually. A person should then perform static stretches, holding each position for a few seconds at a time.

Avoid doing too much too soon. For example, always warm up the muscles with a brisk walk before starting dynamic stretches. A person should never push themselves too hard while stretching or running.

Focus on maintaining excellent form in all aspects of running. This means taking note of small details, such as keeping the back straight while stretching and keeping the knees from going over the toes during lunges.


Warming up and cooling down should be a part of every running routine. It is best to do dynamic stretches before a run and static stretches after the run.

Anyone just starting a running or dynamic stretching program may benefit from speaking with a doctor, physical therapist, or personal trainer. These professionals can advise about safe stretching and running practices.

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