Marathon Training Program: Stretching

I cannot overstate the necessity and benefits of stretching regularly as part of your running routine, let alone your marathon training program. How we stretch, why we stretch, and when we stretch are the keys to making stretching work for you.

There are many texts and magazine articles that provide photos and diagrams of stretches that relate to the sport of running. I highly recommend referring to these and other resources. Running coaches and/or aerobics instructors are also great sources of information and usually are quite willing to demonstrate specific stretching techniques.

Stretching offers many benefits

Stretching offers many benefits

  • Helps prevents muscular aches, pains, and cramping
  • Reduces the possibility of muscular soreness/fatigue over the next day(s)
  • Decreases the possibility of causing a muscular injury
  • Increases the muscles efficiency/effectiveness of movement (improving your overall speed, stamina, and form) by:
    • Enhancing the ability of muscles to contract/work more powerfully and economically
    • Lengthens stride
    • Improves your overall form
  • Great for relaxation

General Stretching Rules for Runners

Stretching Before the Run

One of the greatest misconceptions about exercise and running is that one must stretch before hitting the roads. In fact, the opposite is the case. If you really feel you must stretch, jog or walk for 5 or 10 minutes before stretching to warm those muscles up and to get blood flowing.

Static stretch basics:

  • Stretch the muscle to the point of its greatest range of motion, but do not overextend. You should feel very minimal tightness/discomfort (but not pain).
  • Hold and control the stretch for at least 30 seconds (and maximum 60 seconds).
  • Stretch all the major leg muscle groups (e.g., calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, groin, hip flexors).
  • Stretch uniformly (after stretching one leg, stretch the other).
  • Don’t overstretch an injured area as this may cause additional damage.

Stretch all the major leg muscle groups (e.g., calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, groin, hip flexors).

  • CAUTION: Never bounce when stretching (called ballistic stretching). This increases your chances of incurring injury!

For Speedwork and Races

  • Warm up first with 10 minutes of easy jogging.
  • Stretch thoroughly (see static stretch basics above).
  • Do 6 to 8 striders (Short bursts of speed building to race pace lasting approximately 80 meters).
  • Begin the speedwork session or the race.
  • Do a 10-minute cool-down jog.
  • Stretch thoroughly (see static stretch basics above).

Make Stretching After the Run Part of the Run

A workout isn’t over until you stretch thoroughly (part of your cool down period) immediately following the run. Your legs will be most receptive to the benefits of stretching immediately after you run. Waiting 30 to 40 minutes later after your fatigued and tight muscles have cooled down (especially after long or fast-paced workouts) increases your chances of causing injury. In short, stretch gently and slowly while your muscles are still warm. Make the after running stretch part of the cool down process.

Additional Resources

Check out this great website for stretching photos and tips:

Pick up this wonderful book on stretching

A Final Note
Even if you presently have poor flexibility, a regular stretching program will greatly improve your range of motion through static stretching. Get started now and/or continue stretching as part of your running routine.


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MarathonTraining.com was one of the premier online resources for marathon training information, run from it's inception by author and coach Art Liberman. Now the MarathonTraining.com archives exist on Marathon Handbook, for future generations of runners to enjoy and learn from!

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