Running involves your quadriceps or “quads,” which is the group of muscles at the front of your thigh, attached at the top of the kneecap.
“When the leg strikes the ground, the quads control the deceleration,” Holland explains. “Without them, you’d basically fall.”
But can a stretch ever tear or damage your muscle?
“There shouldn’t be any tearing damage in a stretch — no injury,” says Holland. Stretching merely involves fibers gliding over one another. What’s important is knowing when to stop: “You’ve stretched enough when you don’t feel any tightness as you take your first few steps.” It helps to warm up a bit before you stretch your muscles; simply walking for five or 10 minutes will do. Also, avoid bouncing when you stretch.
The stretches you need:
1. Kneel on your right knee and curve your pelvis under like a “scared dog.”
2. Flatten out your lower back and keep shoulders and chest upright.
3. Bend forward from the hip to the knee even more to stretch the right hip and quad.
4. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch knees.
1. Stand on your left foot and grab your right shin by bending your leg behind you.
2. Tuck your pelvis in, pull your shin toward your glutes, making sure your knee is pointing to the ground. Try not to pull the knee backward or sideways.
3. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
1. Lie on your back at the corner of your bed (where it is the firmest), making sure that your tailbone is at the edge of the bed.
2. Grab one thigh and pull it toward your chest. Make sure that your back is flat and not arched. Let gravity pull down on the leg that is dangling.
3. Relax into the stretch so as not to tense up the muscles. Hold for 1 to 2 minutes and then switch sides.
The importance of form:
“It’s not just the stretches you do and the amount of time you spend doing them that keep your quads flexible,” says Holland. “If you’re not doing it properly, you’re just wasting your time.”
Her biggest tip for runners is maintaining good form while stretching, as bad technique can make it less effective. She emphasizes keeping the back straight — to not arch. As Holland explains it, arching the back “decreases the amount of stretch” in the muscle. When you arch your back, the muscle is looser and gets less of a stretch.
In addition to properly stretching the quad muscles, the calf muscles are involved in running and should be warmed up appropriately for 30 seconds.
When muscles and tendons aren’t warmed up, they don’t work as well. This can increase the chances of you getting a strain or partial tear. But as a general rule, if your pain is bearable, remember to RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. You should also avoid running until the pain goes away.
-Medically Reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE