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Mobility For Runners: 10+ Running Stretches + Strength Exercises

Let’s delve into the often-overlooked realm of running stretches & mobility exercises. The unsung heroes that can elevate your running experience, refine your gait, and build resilience against the risk of running injuries.

Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or lacing up your running shoes for the first time, there seems to be something universally rewarding about feeling the fresh air on your face and the rhythm underfoot. Unless you hate running, in which case this article might not be the one for you.  

In this guide, we’re diving deep into running stretches and mobility drills that support the underlying mechanics of running, targeting the ankles, knees, hips, and mid back. We’ll also explore some gentle strengthening elements to reinforce stable positions and help you glide through your next run with fluidity and grace.

So, whether you’re looking to fine-tune your running technique, boost your performance, or simply minimise the risk of injuries, lets lace up and get moving, hero. 

We’ll break down some of my favourite running stretches throughout the article, but there’s also a full follow along mobility routine that you’re more than welcome to check out. If you give it a try, let me know how you get on in the comments section.  

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The Foundation: Understanding Basic Running Mechanics

Before we delve into the running stretches and mobility drills, it may be worth us establishing a basic understanding of our running mechanics and the main motions and joints involved in the gait cycle.

A running gait involves a coordinated movement through the ankles knees, hips, and shoulders. Without overcomplicating things, the stride begins with a gentle heel to mid-foot strike, transitions through a mid-foot stance, and propels forward with a toe-off. 

The body moves as an integrative whole:

  • The feet and ankles are ideally mobile and strong enough to adapt to changes in terrain.
  • The knees provide a degree of stability.
  • The hips engage in controlled rotation for propulsion and deceleration.
  • The arms swing to generate momentum and counterbalance the legs. 

In regards to movements at the torso, there are two main schools of thought:

1. The Braced Core 

The most commonly adopted model is the ‘braced core’, proposing that the torso should act like a solid pillar. You  stay stiff through the midsection, and the running stride is driven by leaning forwards and engaging movement through the limbs.

2. The Coiling Core

An alternative theory put forth by Serge Gracovetsky in the 80’s and built upon by David Weck is the ‘spinal engine’ or ‘coiling core’ theory. The idea here is that you actively side bend and rotate through the core as the head orients over the standing foot, treating the core as a spring-like mechanism that generates power through coiling and uncoiling. Here, the core is more dynamically engaged, and proponents suggest this technique can optimise gait efficiency, stability, and reduce injury risk. 

While they may seem like opposing ideas, I believe there’s room for both. I‘ve definitely felt the benefit of coiling through the core during running and other rotational movement patterns, but also see great value in being able to brace and resist rotation if I stumble or get ambushed from the side…

Ankle Mobility For Runners

Let’s start from the ground up by looking at the feet and ankles. 

The ankles can play a key role in supporting the running gait and allowing the body to adapt to changes in terrain. 

Studies suggest that reduced ankle range of motion is associated with detrimental knock-on effects up the biomechanical chain, affecting our running mechanics[*].

The good news is that working on isolated ankle mobility, strengthening and functional balance training can have a positive impact on the gait cycle, postural control, and injury prevention[*].

 

1. Alternating Calf Opener

Standing with the heels floating off the edge of a raised surface or at the bottom of a slant board, alternate between coming up onto the ball of one foot while dropping the heel of the opposite foot. 

Lowering the heel down will open up the calf muscles on the back of the lower leg, increasing our ability to dorsiflex at the ankle.

By keeping more of a bend in the working leg, you will target the soleus muscle more than the gastrocnemius. Both variations can be helpful.

2. Calf Raises

As with the previous drill, start with the heels floating off a raised surface or at the bottom of a slant board. Contract the calf muscles to raise up onto the balls of your feet before slowly lowering. 

Here, we’re strengthening the calf muscles, increasing active range of motion, and building the small muscles of the feet and hips while working on our balance.

You can take things further by working towards a single leg calf raise, and/or adding external weight.

Similarly with the calf stretch, introducing a knee bend can bias the work more towards the often underused soleus muscle as opposed to the gastrocnemius.

 

3. Tibialis Anterior Openers

Tightness through the tibialis anterior muscle is often associated with shin splints, so some dedicated stretching and strengthening may be beneficial here.

With control, alternate between stubbing the top of each foot into the ground to open up the front of the ankle and shin area. 

 

4. Tib Raises

Popularised by the Kneesovertoes Guy, tib raises are a great way to strengthen the muscles around the front of the shin to help the body absorb forces exerted on the ground. 

It’s thought that strengthening through ankle dorsi flexion may reduce the risk of injuries in runners, and a small study did show some improvements in sprint times after 4 weeks of tib training 3x a week [*].

To perform tib raises, rest your back against a wall and plant your feet a out in front of you, hips width apart. Slowly attempt to bring your forefoot towards your shins, holding the contraction at the top before slowly lowering. 

You can make this harder by walking your feet further from the wall, or experimenting with seated tib raises using a kettlebell or tib bar. 

 

Hip Mobility And Stretches for Runners

A balance of strength and hip mobility is important for maintaining an efficient running stride and supporting overall performance in running sports. 

Insufficient hip mobility can alter stride length and result in compensatory movements through the knees, ankles and lower back, which over time may contribute to discomfort and injuries. 

But fear not! it doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to make positive changes. 

Let’s go through some of my favourite hip mobility exercises for runners, as well as some drills to help build balance and stability through the pelvis. 

5. Down Dog to Low Lunge

This is an effective way to open up through the hamstrings during the down dog movement, and then the hips flexors on the front of the body during the low lunge.

In the down dog position, think about raising your pelvis up high and lengthening through the spine. You can also pedal out the feet, alternating between bending and straightening each leg to open the calf and hamstring one side at at time.

You can lunge your foot in between your hands for a classic hip flexor stretch, or step to the outside to feel a bit more work into the front hamstring and adductors. 

 

6. Side Lunge or Cossack Squat

Adductor or groin strains are one of the more common injuries in running-based sports[*], and can be partly down to insufficient strength and flexibility through the area. 

Side lunges, or the more advanced Cossack squat, can be a great way to mitigate this and support stability through the pelvis. 

Start with a wider than hips-width stand and begin shifting your weight to one side, bending the knee on the working side while keeping the opposite side somewhat straight.

Over time you can work towards the Cossack squat, which involves keeping the hips much lower to the ground. Using a kettlebell here can be a more advanced variation in terms of building strength, but may also allow you to stay in a more upright position with your hips down low. 

 

7. Hip Controlled Articular Rotations

Having opened things up nicely, we’re now aiming to build strength through the small muscles surrounding the hip joint, improving our ability to flex, extend, and both internally and externally rotate at the hip. Controlled articular rotations involve slow, intentional movements, taking joints through full range of motion with control.

Using a wall or stick to balance if needed, stand on one leg and bring the opposite knee up close to your chest, maintaining an upright torso throughout the movement. Abduct through the hip (moving the knee out to the side), before internally rotating (lifting the lower leg so it’s in line with the height of the knee). Bring the leg out behind you, then reverse the motion back to the front. 

You can make this harder by removing any support, performing with the leg fully straight, and or adding ankles weights.

 

Thoracic Mobility Drills For Runners

The torso is often a neglected part of the equation when it comes to improving mobility for running, often giving way to the more obvious ankles, hips and knees. 

But our ability to move freely through the torso can have a signifiant impact on the comfort of our running stride, and potentially the ability to generate power if we go by the ‘coiling core’ model. 

8. Standing Thoracic Rotations

From a standing position, rotate your torso to one side, allowing the whole body to get involved – the eyes, neck, mid back, arms, hips and ankles. Return to centre and repeat on the oppsite side. 

you can also play with varying the angle of your rotation – going from high to low or low to high. 

 

9. Kneeling Rotate & Breath

From all fours, side ben your torso to close down the left side of your body. From here, rotate your right arm up towards the ceiling. Pause at the top to take a deep breath, filling the belly, ribcage and chest. As you exhale, see if you can gradually extend that range of motion. Rinse and repeat on the oposite side. 

 

10. Alternate Lunge & Rotation

An effective way to tie in a split stance movement through the lower body, with the coiling motion through the core. From a neutral stance, step back into a lunge. 

As you do so, experiment with a side bend and rotation towards the side of the front leg, squeezing down and back to activate the lat on that same side. Alternate and enjoy.

 

FAQs and Bonus Mobility Tips for Runners

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to improving mobility for running. 10-15 minutes, 1-2 times a week may be a good place to start, and you can build from there if needed. You also don’t neccessarily have to do all the stretches or mobility drills at once,. some could be incorporated into your running warmup routine, your cooldown, or sprinkled throughout your day as mini-movement snacks

It’s important to acknowledge that engaging in any physical activity, including running, comes with a risk of injury, and no matter how strong or mobile we get, sometimes shit happens. What matters most is how we’re able to respond and bounce back from setbacks. That being said, a few tips to mitigate the risk of running injuries:

  • Be mindful of upping your mileage too fast, too soon. The no more than 10% rule per week seems to serve many people well.
  • Dedicate some time each week to building strength and supporting joint mobility.
  • Be mindful of total training volume, how ell you are recovering and managing stress. 

For me, an ideal running warmup incorporates some of the mobility principles we’ve discussed above – opening up through the ankles, hips and mid back – but also gets the heart rate and body temperature up, and involves specific drills that support the running stride. Check out this article for a follow along routine: The Ultimate Running Warmup Routine

As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to include more dynamic run-specific mobility exercises pre run, and reserving more static, passive running stretches for your post-workout cooldown (or in an evening wind down routine). 

It’s fairly well established that incorporating strength training can be a great way to support your running performance and reduce your injury risk [*]. A great place to start is picking 3-5 full body exercises 2-3 times per week, moving through the squat, hinge, push, pull, rotate and split stance patterns. With a sturdy base built, you can then begin to incorporate more explosive movements and plyometric drills. 

Over to You

I hope the above running stretches and mobility drills serve you well! 

Let me know how you get on, or if you have any questions, down in the comments below. 

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Luke Jones

Luke Jones

Luke Jones is a Movement Coach, Wellness Enthusiast, Online Content Creator, and Founder of HERO Movement. Through articles, videos, courses, and online coaching, his big goal is to help people discover freedom of movement and create lives filled with well-being & adventure.

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