If the first thing you do when you wake up is pick up your phone and scroll through Twitter or Instagram, you’re doing it wrong. What everyone really needs is a big, juicy stretch to wake up and shake out their body—and that’s especially true for us runners.
“When we sleep, our bodies often tighten up and—depending on our sleeping position—our muscles reduce in length and remain shortened for an extended period of time,” explains Runner's World+ Coach Jess Movold. Obviously, after a workout, “sleep and rest help with recovery, but they can also create some very tight muscles that need to be gradually loosened and lengthened before jumping into a busy day,” she adds.
Not taking the time to stretch after your body has been tight and still for (hopefully!) seven or eight hours can set you up for discomfort and disappointing workouts. “Immediately applying weight to your muscles, when your body isn’t warmed up, can actually cause muscle injury if you move too quickly,” says Movold.
Doing the stretches below first thing in the a.m. will not only wake up your muscles and stimulate blood flow, it’ll reset your posture, improve your flexibility, and increase your mobility. “Just a few easy stretches can help prepare your body to move in the right patterns with strong posture,” says Movold—which will help you run stronger and feel better all day long, especially if you plan to run first thing.
How to do it: Think of this list of moves like a yin yoga flow—there’s movement, but it’s performed at a slow and smooth pace. “Hold the deepest part of the stretch (or the place where you really feel the stretch) for five seconds,” says Movold, but, otherwise, you should be in constant, gradual motion. “Try to set aside 20 minutes and go through all of these stretches at least two times, completing 8 to 10 reps each and changing directions.”
Each stretch is demonstrated by Movold herself so you can learn how to do it correctly.
1. Neck Circle
How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hands on hips. Gently roll the neck to the right and back until gaze is skyward, then to the left and down, until gaze is facing the floor. Repeat on the opposite side.
Why it works: “The stretch reduces tension and develops a better range of motion in the neck, which helps promote better posture while running,” says Movold. “You want to ‘run tall,’ and neck pain will keep you from doing that because it can cause the shoulders to round forward.”
2. Shoulder Shrug
How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and arms hanging loose at sides. Shrug shoulders up towards ears slowly, then slowly lower back down.
Why it works: “This tiny move brings awareness to posture and reminds you to bring your shoulders down and back, which will reduce the tension in your trapezius muscles that leads to stiff arms and a stiff neck,” says Movold.
3. Forward Fold
How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and arms hanging loose at sides. Soften knees and fold forward, letting head head fall toward the ground and bending arms to clasp the opposite elbow. Pause at the bottom, then return to stand.
Why it works: “Lengthen your arms, loosen your hamstrings, and stretch your upper back while working your spinal mobility in this one move,” says Movold.
4. Hip Circle
How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hands on hips. Shift your hips to the right, slowly pushing them back, to the left, and then to the front in a circular motion. Repeat on the other side.
Why it works: Your hip flexors bear the brunt of running and sitting all day; “this move increases range of motion in the hips and loosens the hip flexors and hamstrings while waking up the core,” says Movold.
5. Standing Overhead Reach
How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and arms hanging loose at sides. Lift arms overhead, eventually clasping hands, and squeeze glutes while arching back and lifting gaze up and behind you (without scrunching neck). Return to start.
Why it works: “It's great to start the day by working on posture,” says Movold. “This helps eliminate shoulder tension, neck soreness, and stiff arms while running.”
How to do it: Start standing with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out, and hands clasped at chest for balance. Send hips back, then bend knees to lower down as far as possible while keeping chest lifted. Lower until thighs are at least parallel to floor. Press through heels to return to start.
Why it works: “Ankle mobility is very important for runners, and going into a full squat creates mobility there,” says Movold. “And squats create full-body awareness by waking up those glutes.”
Images: Julia Hembree Smith
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