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How to perform cool down stretches after running

stretching
A post-run cool down stretch programme is vital for happy runners (Image credit: Getty Images)

While dynamic exercises are recommended as the best way to warm up before a run, once you have finished your training session or race, it is a good idea to perform a variety of cool down stretches.

Just as choosing the best running shoes for you can help you make the most of your running, stretching after a run will help you to cool down gradually and improve your flexibility and muscle recovery.

The following programme of the best cool down stretches after running should be done when muscles are warm and therefore more elastic.

When doing each exercise you should stretch to the point of tightness or but not so that you feel great discomfort. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. You can repeat each a couple of times for best benefits.

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Perform a quad stretch as part of a cool down after running (Image credit: Getty Images)

6 of the best cool down stretches for runners

Hamstring stretch 

Hamstrings will naturally tighten when running so it’s important to stretch them during a cool down.

To do a hamstring stretch, stand with one leg just in front of the other. Place you hands on your hips. Keeping the front leg straight and toes pointing up, bend the other leg.

Keep your back straight and your chest up as you bend your torso towards the front leg. Repeat with the other leg.

Hip flexor stretch

Most runners will know how tight the hip flexors can become without stretching. This is an important cool down stretch. 

To perform the stretch, take a stride forward with one leg as if doing a lunge. Keep both feet pointing straight ahead and bend the back leg.

Keep your torso tall and push your hips forwards. You should feel a stretch along the front of the hip. Raise your arms above your head to feel a further stretch.

Quad stretch 

Stand straight and with your feet close together and facing forwards. Lift one leg behind you and hold the foot with your hand. 

Keeping balanced (you can rest the other hand on a wall or similar to maintain balance), gently pull your heel towards your butt to stretch the front of the thigh. Ensure the knees stay close together. 

Make sure you stand tall and keep your hips forwards for the best stretching effect. Repeat on the other side.

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Include a calf stretch as a post-run cool down  (Image credit: Getty Images)

Calf stretch

You can use a wall to lean against or do this cool down stretch without assistance. 

Step one leg forward and bend this front leg, keeping the back leg straight. Make sure both feet are pointing forwards. 

Push the heel of the back leg into the ground and keep this leg straight, You will feel the stretch down the back of the leg and below the knee. Repeat on the other side.

Iliotibial band (ITB) stretch

The ITB is the connecting band of tissue that runs down the outside of the legs. It is a problem area for many runners. While it's hard to maintain flexibility in the ITB, this cool down stretch should help. 

Standing tall and with your feet facing forwards, cross your right leg behind the left one. Making sure both feet stay on the ground, lean to your left to stretch the right ITB. Try not to lean forwards or push your butt out. 

For an extra stretch, extend your left arm above you head and use that to increase the length of the stretch. Repeat on the other side. 

Glute stretch

To perform this important cool down stretch for runners, lie on the ground on your back.

Keeping your feet felt on the ground, bend the knees. Now cross one leg over the opposite thigh. Hold the thigh with both hands and gently pull it towards your chest.

You will feel a stretch in your glute and butt. Repeat on the other side.

Regularly doing cool down stretches after running will help to prevent injuries snd keep muscles long and flexible.

Fiona Russell

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, who is better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favourite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing, both downhill and back country. Her target for 2021 is to finish the final nine summits in her first round of all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of more than 3,000ft high. Aside from being outdoors, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy the great outdoors, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.