Running is a passion for many – it’s great exercise, an effective stress reliever and a fun pastime. But like any physical activity, your actual time spent running is not the beginning nor the end of your workout. Proper stretches both before and after your run can help enhance your performance and prevent injuries. Try these suggestions to get the most out of your run.

Before Running Stretches

While there is some debate over whether stretching before running improves results, if you have any concerns about injury or muscle tension, it can’t hurt to implement a brief stretch routine before you set out to get warmed up. If you do choose to stretch first, dynamic stretches are recommended rather than static ones. Here are some of the best before running stretches for you to try:

  • High knees and butt kicks. Jog in place while alternately lifting each leg either high in front of you or behind you.
  • Walking lunges. Taking large strides, sink down low with each step. One thigh should be parallel to the ground and one should be perpendicular with the knee reaching toward the ground.
  • Hip circles. Stand straight with your feet comfortably apart, place your hands on your hips and rotate your hips in wide circles.

After Running Stretches

One thing most experts agree on is the importance of a post-run cooldown. This is the time when static stretches are appropriate to improve flexibility and prevent injury. Take a few minutes to do some of these after running stretches:

  • Hamstring stretches. Sitting on the floor, bend one leg with your foot against your thigh and your knee on the floor. Stretch your other leg out in front of you and gently pull on your foot with your hands. Repeat on both sides.
  • Hip flexor stretches. Place one knee on the floor with foot outstretched behind you and lean forward until your opposite shin is perpendicular to the floor. Place your hands on your knee and press forward into the stretch. Repeat on both sides.
  • Quad stretches. Stand on one foot, and grab the opposite ankle behind you. Pull your foot gently up against your backside. Repeat with both legs.
  • Calf stretches. Either stand on the edge of a stair and drop each heel or place the ball of each foot against a wall and gently lean forward for the stretch.

Other Running Tips

While stretching is important, there are other practices to keep in mind if you’re a runner. Be sure to stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, and eat bananas or other potassium-rich foods on intense marathon days. Also make sure you’ve got the right gear. Properly sized running shoes are crucial, as is having the necessary arch support and cushioning you’ll find in a high-quality shoe insole for runners.