Top 10 Stretches for Runners' Legs and Lower Body

If your legs are feeling stiff, tight or inflexible in the closing stages of training for a marathon or half marathon, below are Chart Clinics Top 10 stretches for runners' legs and lower body.

The following passive stretches are designed to help with flexibility in your lower body. Generally, the exercises should only be performed provided they do not cause or increase pain, if you are unsure about any painful symptoms, contact your Osteo/Physio or other health professional.

1) Calf Stretch (Soleus)

  • Begin this lower calf stretch with the leg you are stretching behind you.(See figure 1)
  • Extend the leg to be stretched back and place your foot flat on the ground, toes facing forwards.
  • Bend your knee, so you gently push it forwards over your toes, until you feel a stretch in the back of your lower calf or Achilles tendon. For balance you can stand with your hands against the wall.
  • Hold for 30-40 seconds and repeat 2-3 times at a mild to moderate, pain-free stretch.
Calf stretch 1

Figure 1 – Calf stretch (Soleus)
(Right leg)

2) Calf Stretch (Gastrocnemius)

  • Begin this upper calf stretch with the leg you are stretching behind you. (See figure 2)
  • Extend the leg to be stretched back and place your foot flat on the ground, toes facing forwards. Keep your heel down and you knee straight.
  • Gently lunge forward on your supporting leg until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf or knee on the leg you are stretching.
  • For balance you can stand with your hands against the wall.
  • Hold for 30-40 seconds and repeat 2-3 times at a mild to moderate, pain-free stretch.
Calf stretch 2

Figure 2 – Calf stretch (Gastrocnemius)
(Right leg)

3) Quadriceps Stretch Standing

  • Use a chair or table to hold for balance.
  • Take your foot and pull your heel towards your bottom.
  • Keep your knees together and back straight until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. (Figure 3)
  • Hold for 30-40 seconds and repeat 2-3 times at a mild to moderate, pain-free stretch.  
  • Practical point – Gently tip your pelvis backwards, lifting your hips and flattening the curve in your lower back. This prevents you from arching backwards excessively and increases the stretch in the front of your thigh. To perform a backwards pelvic tilt, squeeze your buttock muscles and tip your hips backwards.
Quadriceps stretch

Figure 3 – Quadriceps stretch standing

4) Hamstring Stretch

  • Place your foot flat on the ground or on a step or a chair, low enough for you to comfortably place one foot onto with your leg extended.
  • Keep your back straight, lean forward through your hips until a stretch is felt in the back of your thigh. (See Figure 4)
  • Hold for 30-40 seconds and repeat 2-3 times at a mild to moderate, pain-free stretch.
  • Practical note: Keep your foot relaxed, lifting your toes/foot does not improve a Hamstring stretch, it stretches the sciatic nerve which is not the objective here.
Hamstring stretch

Figure 4 – Hamstring Stretch

5) Groin Stretch Standing

  • Begin standing tall with your back straight. (See Figure 5)
  • Place your feet about twice shoulder width apart, feet facing forwards.
  • Gently lunge to one side bending at that knee and hip, keeping your opposite leg straight until you feel a stretch in the inner thigh or groin.
  • Hold for 30-40 seconds and repeat 2-3 times at a mild to moderate, pain-free stretch.
Groin stretch

Figure 5 – Groin Stretch
(left leg)

6) ITB Stretch

  • Cross the leg you are going to stretch behind your other leg, taking it as far a comfortable for you. (See Figure 6)
  • Push your hips to the side of your leg to be stretched until you feel a stretch in your outer thigh or hip. Keep your back straight.
  • Hold for 30-40 seconds and repeat 2-3 times at a mild to moderate, pain-free stretch.
ITB stretch

Figure 6 – ITB Stretch
(Left leg)

7) Hip Flexor Stretch – Lunge

  • Begin this stretch in a lunge position, ideally with a pillow on the floor underneath your bent knee.
  • Your leg to be stretched will be behind you. (See Figure 7)
  • Keep your back straight, perform a backwards pelvic tilt, by squeezing your buttock muscles and tipping your hips backwards.
  • You may feel a stretch in the front of your thigh already, to intensify this effect, gently lunge forwards to increase the stretch in the front of your thigh or hip.
  • Hold for 30-40 seconds and repeat 2-3 times at a mild to moderate, pain-free stretch.
Hip flexor stretch

Figure 7 – Hip flexor stretch lunge
(Right leg)

8) Long Sitting Gluteal Stretch

  • Begin this stretch sitting on the floor with both legs out in front of you.
  • Place the foot of the leg to be stretched on the outside of your straight leg. (See Figure 8)
  • Keep you back straight; pull the leg to be stretched towards your chest, until you feel a stretch in your buttocks.
  • Hold for 30-40 seconds and repeat 2-3 times at a mild to moderate, pain-free stretch.
Long sitting gluteal stretch

Figure 8 – Long Sitting Gluteal Stretch
(Left leg)

9) Supine Piriformis/Deep Gluteal Stretch

  • Begin this stretch on your back.
  • Place the ankle of leg to be stretched on top of your thigh, resting it above the knee. (See Figure 9).
  • Thread your hands under your leg to clasp behind your opposite legs thigh or if you can reach, the front of your shin. (The Right side is being stretched, hands clasped around left leg.)
  • Gently pull your thigh or lower leg towards your chest, until you feel a stretch in your opposite buttock.
  • Hold for 30-40 seconds and repeat 2-3 times at a mild to moderate, pain-free stretch.
Deep gluteal stretch

Figure 9 – Supine Gluteal Stretch
(Right leg)

10) Kneeling Anterior Tibialis Stretch (Front of shin)

  • Begin this stretch kneeling with your feet and ankles supported by a pillow. (See Figure 10)
  • Gently kneel with you’re the top of your foot resting on the pillow and your toes pointing way behind you, this is the planter flexed position of your ankle.
  • You should feel a stretch on the front of your ankle and shin/lower leg.
  • Hold for 30-40 seconds and repeat 2-3 times at a mild to moderate, pain-free stretch.
Kneeling Anterior Tibialis Stretch

Figure 10 – Kneeling Anterior Tibialis Stretch
(Front of shin)


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