The best cool down stretches for runners after running

Whether you're a seasoned marathoner or just starting out, incorporating a proper cool down routine into your running regimen is essential for preventing running injuries and promoting recovery. In this post, we will explore a series of effective stretches specifically tailored to help runners ease tension of the main muscle group, improve flexibility, and aid in the post-run recovery process. Whether you're looking to enhance your performance or simply enjoy a more comfortable running experience, these stretches are designed to support your overall well-being as a runner. So, let's dive in and discover the best cool down stretches to incorporate into your post-run recovery routine.

An equally important aspect of running injury-free is making sure you complete a dynamic warmup before you do any type of exercise, especially running where we are all guilty of getting out the front door and just going for it! But today we are concentrating on what to do after a run to make sure we stay healthy.


What are the benefits of stretching after a run?

Stretching after a run offers several benefits that contribute to overall well-being and running performance. When the muscles are warm, they become more flexible, allowing for improved range of motion and accelerated recovery. Stretching right after a run can help reduce muscle and joint stiffness, known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and may contribute to injury prevention by increasing range of motion and blood flow. Additionally, stretching after running helps decrease the risk of muscle strains, overuse injuries, and conditions such as tendonitis. It can also prevent soreness, cramping, and tightness in the muscles, promoting better running efficiency and stride length. Furthermore, stretching after a run aids in regeneration, keeps the fasciae supple, and maintains mobility. Regular stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, which is essential for maintaining a range of motion in the joints and preventing joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. Therefore, incorporating post-run stretches into your routine can help prevent muscle soreness and injury, improve flexibility, and protect your joints, ultimately enhancing your running performance.

Top tip: even if you have one leg/side "tighter" than the other, it is important to repeat the uni-lateral (single leg) exercise on both your right leg and left leg to ensure you limit the risk of any imbalances. The last thing you want is to improve the flexibility of one hamstring, for the other to fall behind!


Stretches for runners

So here are my favourite stretches for runners to do after a run or workout. The below stretches target most of the main muscle groups associated with running and aid in recovery so you can get back out there without a feeling of tight legs on your next run. I have incorporated a few different types of stretching exercises which aim to reduce any chance of sore muscles whilst being simple to follow as part of your running routine.


Kneeling hip flexor stretch

To perform the kneeling hip flexor stretch, follow these steps:

Starting Position:

  • Kneel on a mat with both knees, then place one foot forward so that you have a 90-degree angle at the hip and knee. Place your hands on the front knee for support if needed.
  • Ensure your hips are like a cogwheel and rotate that wheel backward to achieve a posterior pelvic tilt, feeling tightness in the front of your hip and quad.



  • Keeping the torso upright, slowly lean forward until you feel a comfortable stretch through the groin and top of the thigh (rear leg).
  • Maintain the pelvic tilt and move your whole torso forward as much as possible without letting go of the pelvic tilt.
  • Hold the stretch position for 30-45 seconds at a time for a total of 2-5 repetitions, trying to move into the stretch a little deeper with each repetition.

Exercise Variation: To increase the intensity of the stretch, raise the same side arm straight in the air and tilt slightly to the opposite side as you lean forward into the hip. Remember to perform this stretch on both sides for a balanced stretch routine to assist with tight hip flexors.

If you suffer any kind of knee pain on your kneeling leg, use a pillow or an exercise mat to soften the surface.


Piriformis stretch

The piriformis muscle sits within your hip, attaching from the lower back to your outer hip. It's helps with hip stability so can be put under strain significantly while running as well as relieving tightness of some other gluteal muscles. To perform the stretch:

  • Lie flat on your back with both knees bent.
  • Cross your ankle over your opposite knee.
  • Grab the back of your thigh area behind your opposite knee.
  • Gently pull your thigh straight toward your chest.
  • Hold for 60-90 seconds.


Hamstring stretch

There are a few ways to stretch your hamstrings but I prefer to do it sitting, while I get my breath back after a run!

  • Sit on the floor with one leg straight and the other leg bent.
  • Straighten the bent leg with the heel on the floor and the toes pointing toward the ceiling.
  • Bend forward at the hip and hold the stretch for 60-90 seconds, repeating two to four times for each leg.


Knee to wall

The knee to wall stretch is a range of motion stretch that can be used for the ankle, foot, Achilles tendons, and calf muscles. Here's how to perform it:

  1. Stand facing a wall or a table, with your hips parallel to the wall or table.
  2. Place your hands on the wall or table for balance.
  3. Bend your knee (in this case, the good leg) and try to touch the wall. If you can touch it, slide your foot back slightly, keeping your heel flat and hips square.
  4. If you can't touch the wall, slide your foot back a little more and try again.
  5. Once you've found your maximum stretch, match the position of your other foot to that of your good foot and see if you can touch the wall again, keeping your hips parallel and your heel flat.
  6. Hold the stretch for a comfortable duration, ensuring that your heel stays flat and your hips remain parallel.

This stretch is one of the best runner-specific calf stretches and can help improve ankle, foot, Achilles, and calf mobility, especially after an injury. It's important to perform this stretch gently and avoid overstretching to reduce injury risk. For best results complete on both the right ankle and left ankle. 


Heel drop on step

To perform the heel drop calf stretch on a step, follow these steps:

  1. Stand on a raised object or step.
  2. Place the toes of one foot on the edge of the step.
  3. Keep your leg straight and let your heel drop slowly towards the ground.
  4. Hold the stretch for a comfortable duration, aiming to feel a gentle stretch through the back of the calf or the Achilles tendon.

It's important to maintain proper form during the stretch. If you experience pain or discomfort particularly in your achilles, it's advisable to stop and consult with a medical provider.


Knee hugs

To perform the knee hugs stretch, follow these steps:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift your left knee up and towards your chest.
  3. Grab your left knee and pull it in as close as you can into your chest.
  4. Hold this stretch for 60 to 90 seconds, lean against a wall for stability if needed.
  5. Slowly release the left leg to the ground and repeat on the right side.

This stretch targets the glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings, abs, and calves. It can be a beneficial addition to your warm-up or cool-down routine to improve flexibility and mobility in the lower body.


Child's pose

To perform the child's pose stretch, follow these steps:

  1. Kneel on the floor, sitting on your heels.
  2. Lower your body forward, allowing your forehead and torso to rest on or near the ground.
  3. Extend your arms in front of you with your palms facing down or bring your arms back alongside your thighs with the palms facing upwards.
  4. Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply for at least eight breaths, allowing your body to relax and stretch.
  5. If it's difficult to rest your forehead on the floor, you can modify the stretch by folding your arms in front of you on the floor and resting your forehead on your arms.
  6. Hold the stretch for a comfortable duration, focusing on relaxation and deep breathing to promote flexibility and relieve muscle tension.


Pigeon stretch

The pigeon stretch is a yoga pose that targets the hips and lower back. To perform the pigeon stretch, follow these steps:

  1. Start in a tabletop position on your hands and knees.
  2. Slide one knee forward toward the same-side wrist, angling the shin under your torso.
  3. Extend the other leg straight back and lower your hips toward the ground.
  4. Ensure your hips are squared and level.
  5. You can stay upright on your hands or lower down onto your forearms or forehead to deepen the stretch.

This stretch helps open the hips, increase flexibility, and alleviate tightness in the hip flexors and helps to relieve lower back pain. It's important to perform the stretch mindfully and avoid overexertion to prevent injury.


Frog stretch

The frog stretch, also known as Mandukasana in yoga, is a pose that targets the inner thighs and hip mobility. To perform the frog stretch, you can follow these general steps:

  1. Begin in a tabletop position on your hands and knees.
  2. Take your knees as wide as your flexibility allows, pointing the toes outwards and opening the feet wider than the knees to deepen the stretch.
  3. Move the hips back towards the heels and come down onto the forearms, bringing the gaze down or slightly forward.

This stretch can be challenging, so it's important to ease into it and modify as needed. The frog stretch is beneficial for improving hip mobility and stretching the inner thighs.


Performing these static stretches at the end of a run, as part of a cool down routine can be the best time to do them, while your heart rate is reducing. It doesn't matter if you've completed a long run, an interval session or an easy run; a cool down is an essential part of recovery between runs so getting into a routine of stretching regularly can be a great way to reduce your risk of injury and improve your overall performance. Static stretching is a good way to increase flexibility and reduce a feeling of tightness, however other factors should also be taken into account when it comes to recovery such as nutrition, hydration, sleep and other running-specific stretch exercises.

If your tightness is more of a feeling of pain, I recommend seeing a physical therapist who will be able to assess your injury and prescribe more specific exercises to meet your individual needs.

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Arun Gray sports therapist strength and conditioning coach skegness

The author

Arun Gray is a sports therapist and strength & conditioning coach with over 15 years experience in the industry. He also has a personal history with chronic shoulder and back pain along with a range of other sporting injuries.

Arun writes about common injuries and aims to help people understand and manage their pain to prevent having to rely on national healthcare.

Read more about Arun