Before a run, stretching generally falls in the “have to do,” not the “get to do” column. I’m just eager to use my energy to hit the trail, ya know?
But there’s one stretch that I don’t mind doing at all, because everything about it makes me feel like I’m making myself stronger and more prepared for the starting line. The stretch is called “single leg hip hinges,” and also goes by the name “runner touches.”
To do it, you stand on one leg, and then lean your torso forward and lift the non-standing leg up behind you until both are parallel to the ground. You’re basically in a Warrior 3 pose, forming a “T” shape with your body (your standing leg is the base, and your leaned-forward upper body and raised leg are the top). Then, engaging your core, you come back up to standing, bringing the raised leg bent and in front of you, in a runner pose like you’re sprinting with a high knee.
The stretch is like a snapshot of a single stride. You repeat it for 30 seconds on one side, and then do it again on the other leg.
This move falls into the category of dynamic stretching, where you engage your muscles while simultaneously stretching them. That double duty is what makes dynamic stretches so great for preparing to exercise.
“Dynamic stretching is different than static stretching because you are not holding a stretch (as you would in a static stretch), you are actively coming in and out of that stretch thus activating and stimulating the muscles being used,” says Azul Corajoria, a certified health coach and personal trainer. “A good dynamic stretch targets the muscles you’re about to use to help increase range of motion and blood circulation.”
Since this stretch ends in basically a freeze frame of your run, it would make sense that it would mimic the motion of running in a way that prepares your muscles.
“It gently stretches your posterior chain muscles (hamstrings, glutes, and back) within a full range of motion as you bend forward, and then you need to activate/contract them as you come back up,” Corajoria says. “It’s also a great movement because it requires you to use your core to maintain good form.”
So functionally, these moves make for a great pre-running warm-up. But what is it about them that I actually *enjoy* so much? When I tilt forward, I relish the stretch that my standing leg gets in my hamstring. But I also love the feeling of coming back up. To do this slow and with control, I can almost feel every muscle in my leg—from my big ol’ quads to the tiny muscles in my ankles—springing into action. It makes me feel strong and lithe. As if I’m ready to leap forward and run.
There could be some biology at work, Corajoria tells me. The stretch is helping alleviate tightness and tension, “but also the increase in blood flow and oxygen in our bodies can trigger the release of endorphins and serotonin (AKA our ‘feel good’ hormones). Our bodies are designed to move, they want to move.”
That’s exactly what this stretch is a reminder of. That my body is ready to move, ready to run.