Flexibility Training: Running Stretches
by Brian Dorfman
There's perfection to the movement of elite runners. Watching them run, I'm often struck by the
beauty and grace in their stride, with the perfect alignment of their hip, knee and foot. Their
upper bodies seem relaxed, lifted and strong. I wish I could run with such strength and
Regardless of form, however, even the best runners will experience impact and compression.
Compression can be both useful and harmful. The right amount of compression is needed to
strengthen the joint. Too much or not enough will weaken and break down the joint.
To counter the negative force of impact, an athlete can make subtle changes in alignment,
weight distribution and biomechanics. In addition, the nervous system and brain have their own
shock protection, such as the disk, the vertebrae and the skull.
These stretches will counter the compressive forces from running and encourage useful joint
mechanics. These moves will create mobility at the ankle, decompress the hip and relax the side
and back of the leg. Using these three stretches together will allow you to effectively manage
the primary muscles and joints used in running, and promote foot, ankle, knee and hip
Calf with belt
Most everyone can benefit from this stretch and it's good to use anywhere, anytime. The
intention is to loosen the foot, challenge the ankle and release the back of the knee. This is
vital in running because mobility starts at the lower leg. Athletes like this stretch because
it's passive and effective.
- Lie on your back and place a strap, towel or belt around the arch or ball of your left
- Straighten your left leg and extend your left heel up, stretching the calf. The right leg
can be on the floor or bent.
- Each hand holds the strap, the elbows are straight.li>Hold the stretch for five to 12
- Repeat with other leg.
This stretch will let you fine tune the lower leg. Move the outside edge of your foot down,
and use the strap to pull the toes to your shin. Keep your knee straight and move the hip away
from the ribs. If your leg is tight, put your heel up on a wall, allowing the lower back to
extend. Stretch to where you feel relaxed and effective.
Hamstring/hip with belt
Use this stretch to balance the power of the hip muscles with the extension of the torso to
optimize your effort when running. In addition, you'll relax the muscles and decompress the
ball and socket joint at the hip.
- Lie on your back and place a strap, towel or belt around the bottom of your left foot just
behind the ball of the foot.
- Hold the strap in your right hand and take your left arm out away from the torso at a
- Straighten your left leg and extend your left heel up. Keep the right leg on the floor with
the knee bent or straight.
- On exhale, lower your left leg across your body as the left hip moves away from the ribs on
the left. On inhale, bring your leg back up to the starting position. Repeat three to five
- From starting position, drop the left leg across the body once more and hold the stretch in
this position for five to twelve breaths. Roll the left hip/pelvic area away from the ribs on
the left side, and use the strap to pull the toes toward the shins. The arm holding the strap
- Repeat with other leg.
When you move into this stretch, go slowly. Keep both shoulders on the ground and rotate the
hip away from the ribs, bringing a deeper stretch into the hip. Be sure to flex the ankle and
straighten the back of the knee. This position lets you release the tension in the side of the
leg and hip. Moving the leg closer to the floor isn't the point. Take your time to make small
adjustments in the leg position. Relax and notice the effects as you move out of the
Standing hamstring will let you safely decompress the knee, rejuvenate deep hip muscles and
reinforce the length at the waist. It will coordinate the lower leg alignment and positively
affect your running gait.
- Place both hands shoulder width apart on a wall or the back of a chair.
- Walk your feet under your hips until your legs are perpendicular to the torso.
- Arch your lower back.
- Hold this position for five breaths.
- On inhale, raise your left leg back a little.
- Straighten your right leg. Your left hip can roll toward the ground.
- Hold this position for five to twelve breaths.
- Repeat with the other leg.
The key movement is at the waist and the ribs. After you create space at the waist, adjust
your weight on the standing leg, keep the back arched, and move the left hip down.
Notice what happens at the knee when you lift the outside edge of your foot. As you hold the
stretch, drop the hip a little more and breathe easy and smooth. If you're tight, move your
hands up the wall so the lower back can arch.
Stretching can be targeted to address specific areas and create certain effects. Focus on your
alignment in these stretches, as they directly correspond to your optimal running alignment.
Use this set of stretches and feel better, run like a pro, and race and train forever.
Brian Dorfman holds a BS in kinesiology from UCLA and has 25 years of experience helping
world-class athletes and others reach their goals. His proven techniques keep athletes
performing at their peak. For information or to purchase the Flexibility Training DVD visit www.briandorfman.com or call toll-free at
866-787-3348. Reprinted with permission of the author.