Improve your running form by boosting your flexibility, says coaching editor Phil Mosley
Hamstring leg swings
Start your run with a 10-minute gentle warm-up. Once your muscles are warm, stop and do 10 of these exercises on each leg. Start by holding on to something such as a fence or a lamp post for balance. Standing on one leg, gently swing the other one forwards and backwards so that you feel a gentle stretch in your hamstring at the top of the forward swing. Try standing side-on to a kerb so that your swinging foot doesn’t scuff the ground. Gradually try to get your leg a bit higher on each swing, without overdoing it.
Hip Flexor Strides
Riding a bike or sitting for long periods at a desk can make your hip flexors tight, and yet supple hip flexors are important during the knee-lift phase of running. Start doing this exercise after 10 minutes of easy running. You need to walk along with big purposeful, slow and controlled strides, gently lowering your knee so that it almost touches the ground on each stride. Do not let your front knee go past your front foot. If you get this exercise right, you will feel a stretch in the front of your hip (of the trailing leg).
Kneeling quad stretch
This is a good stretch to do when you get back from a run or ride. It’s one of many quad stretches, but this one allows you to properly relax your muscles while you’re doing it – the hardest thing about it will be standing up again afterwards. Put a towel or flat cushion under your knees and kneel on it with your legs together and your back straight. Take some deep breaths, feel your muscles slowly relax and lean back slightly if that helps you to achieve a good stretch. Do this for around 30 seconds each time.
Static Hip Flexor Stretch
This hip flexor stretch is best for when you get home after a run or bike ride. On a soft surface, such as a carpet, adopt the position as above, not too dissimilar to a sprinter’s start position. Have your front foot on the ground (knee bent), and the rear leg as shown with your knee on the ground. Lean forwards into the stretch (keep your back straight) until you feel it in the hip flexor of the rear leg. Hold this position for 30 seconds. If you have tight calf muscles, you’ll probably feel a stretch in your calf too. When you’ve done it once, swap sides.
Riding a bike can give you tight gluteal muscles (the ones in your bottom), which can limit your range of motion during running. You should stretch after cycling by lying on your back with a towel or cushion under your head. Bring your knees towards your chest and cross one leg over the other. Clasp your hands under the thigh of the far leg and gradually pull it towards your head. This should increase the stretch on the near leg, in the area of your glutes. Relax and gradually increase the stretch for 30 seconds then swap sides.
Doorway Hamstring Stretch
Cycling can leave your hamstrings feeling tight and short. This is because your legs never get a chance to fully straighten while you’re riding a bike. However, supple hamstrings are important for running. The best post-running stretch is one where you lie on your back, with one leg flat on the ground and the other leg up against a wall or door frame. Relax and gradually increase the stretch by gently pressing against the thigh of the upper leg. Try not to let the other leg come off the ground. Do this for 30 seconds on each side, taking deep breaths.
Kerb Calf Stretch
Running on concrete can leave you with tight and sore calf muscles. The most easy and effective stretch for this is one that you do on a step, straight after you’ve been running, while your muscles are still pliable. You can either do each leg individually, or both at the same time. Hold onto something for balance and gently lower your heels off a kerb or step with your knees straight. Feel the stretch and breathe deeply for 30 seconds. Then try doing the same stretch with your knees slightly bent, to focus on the lower calf muscles (called the soleus).
This stretch helps lengthen the muscles on the insides of your thighs, which can get tight from cycling and running. It involves sitting on a soft surface with your knees out to the sides and the soles of your feet pressed together. Keep your back straight and you should be able to feel a stretch straightaway. To progress the stretch, you can either get someone to gently press down on the insides of your knees or you can use your hands or elbows to press them down yourself. Do this for around 30 seconds, while you breathe deeply and relax.