It doesn't matter if you're on your very first run or have 50 races under your belt. Cramps can happen to anyone. What's more, they can happen to runners anytime, on any part of the body. Arms, abs, legs, feet — I think I've had just about every muscle in my body cramp while running. Cramps can be caused by a number of different factors, such as lactic-acid buildup from exercise, dehydration, and heat, but aren't usually anything to worry about.
Although they're undeniably annoying and quite often painful, they don't have to derail your training. To help runners cope with some common cramps, we spoke to Steve Stonehouse, a NASM-certified personal trainer and the director of education at boutique franchise studio STRIDE, for his best stretches. Try these three moves the next time you need to work out those pesky cramps.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
- From a kneeling position, place your left knee on a soft ground (a grassy area if you're out on your run or a mat if you're at home) directly under your left hip. This will be the leg you're stretching.
- Place the right foot in front of the right hip so your right knee is directly over your right ankle and your right hip is at a right angle. Keep your posture upright and maintain a straight, tall spine.
- Pull your shoulders down and back without arching your lower back. Engage your abs to stiffen your spine and keep your pelvis level and stable. Squeeze and contract the glute muscles of your left hip so that you slightly lunge forward. You should feel this stretch throughout the front side of your left leg.
- Hold the stretch position for 20-30 seconds at a time, always making sure your core is braced so your pelvis doesn't rotate and lose the stretch. Alternate hips and repeat.
To increase the intensity of the stretch, raise your left arm straight in the air and tilt slightly to the right side. Alternate sides and raise the right arm and tilt to the left side.
IT Band Stretch
- To stretch the left leg, cross the right leg in front so that your left leg is situated behind. Raise your left arm high overhead while standing up tall. (The leg in the back should be the sore leg, aka the one you're stretching.)
- With your left arm raised high, lean to the right side while standing up straight. You should be leaning to the opposite side — away from the side that is sore — until you feel a stretch across the IT band.
- Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat four times on each side.
Standing Calf Stretch
- Position yourself arm's length away from a wall with your feet hip width apart. Extend your arms outward and place your palms on the wall, slightly higher than your shoulders. Stiffen your core abdominal muscles to stabilize your spine, then depress and retract your shoulder blades down and back without arching your lower back.
- Step back with your right leg into a split-stance position, keeping both feet flat on the floor and toes pointing forward. Keep your head in line with your spine. Begin to slowly lean your body toward the wall, keeping your pelvis and spine in alignment. Don't allow your hips to tilt forward.
- Increase the bend in your left (front) knee while keeping the right leg straightened and pushing the right heel into the floor, keeping your foot flexed up with toes pointed forward.
- Support your bodyweight with your arms, allowing your elbows to bend as you shift your weight forward. Increase the stretch by bringing your body closer to the wall and increasing the bend in your left knee while pressing your right heel into the ground.
- Hold the stretch position for 15-30 seconds at a time for a total of two to four repetitions. Complete all repetitions on one side before alternating to the other leg.
These stretches may be easier to complete indoors post-run; however, in a pinch, you can always pause your workout and locate a grassy area or side of a building (to use as a prop) to complete these stretches. We recommend completing these stretches while still in your running sneakers, like the Under Armour HOVR™ Infinite 2 Running Shoes ($120), for added support and mobility throughout your movements.