Last Updated: July 4th, 2022
How to prevent stiff legs when running? To do that, the first thing we need to find out is why your legs are actually stiff.
There are way too many reasons for which you may be having stiffness in your legs during running.
Also, these tend to vary from runner to runner. Sometimes, this stiffness may be an early sign of something wrong which is in its early stages.
However, more often than not, there are only a handful of reasons for which you may be suffering from leg stiffness while running.
We have covered this in great detail in the below sections…so let’s get started.
How to prevent stiff legs when running?
To prevent stiff legs when running, you have to do some pre-running stretches for your legs. Also, you need to make changes to your workout routines and your diet if needed. Also, reevaluate your running gears, especially the shoes, and check if you need to make any changes.
Preventing stiff legs when running may seem to be a bit tricky. A lot of things go into it. Also, the reason for stiffness in your legs may vary from other runners.
However, there are some common causes that may be true for your stiff legs as well which we have detailed in the below section.
Also, to prevent stiff legs when running, you need to do a proper stretching of your legs before running.
And by proper stretching, I mean your stretching from your toes to your hips and glutes.
Pre-run stretching routine to prevent stiffness in legs when running
In this section, I’ll provide you with some exercises that will stretch every part of your leg. You need to perform this stretch before every run.
#1. Stretching for toes
- Anchor your big toe on the floor.
- Stretch out all the other toes as wide as possible and place them on the floor.
- Hold it for 5 counts.
- Repeat 10 times, 3 sets.
#2. Stretching for the upper part of the foot
- Fold your toes so that the top part of your toes touch the floor (the part with nails)
- Hold something to keep you steady.
- Now gently put pressure on your toes until you feel a stretch on the upper part of the foot.
- Hold for 5 counts and release.
- Repeat 10 times, 3 sets.
#3. Stretching for the bottom part of the foot
- Put your toes on the wall and your heel should be on the ground.
- Now gradually lean in until you feel a stretch on he back of the legs and the bottom of your foot.
- Hold for 5 counts and release.
- Repeat for 10 times, 3 sets on both the feet.
OR, you can try out another exercise with a ball.
- Put the ball on the floor.
- Put your foot on the ball and roll the ball forward and backward.
- Do this for times, 3 sets and with both the feet.
#4. Ankle exercise
- Lift your foot a little bit above the ground.
- Now rotate your foot in a clockwise fashion 10 times and in anti-clockwise fashion 10 times.
- Repeat with the other feet.
#5. Shin, Hip and Groin area stretch
- Stand straight on the ground.
- Fold one leg backward.
- The knee should be pointing the ground just below the hip.
- Hold the foot and push it a bit forward until you are able to feel a stretch on your quad and your shin area.
- Do this 10 times with each leg.
#6. Calf Stretch
- Stand at the edge of a stair with half of of both foot on the stair and heels hanging in the air.
- Hold the staircase rail for keeping your stable.
- Lift your heel until you are on your toes.
- Now drop your heels until you have moved past the level of the stair or you feel a stetch in your calf mucles.
- Reapeat this 10-15 times for 2 rounds.
#7. Knee Exercise
- Sit on the ground with legs stretched in front.
- Stiffen your knee as much as possible.
- Hold for 5 counts. Release.
- Do this for 20 times, 3 rounds.
#8. Quad stretch
You can do the stretch that you have done with shin or you can do this additional exercise.
- On a mat stand on your knees.
- Now bring one foot at the front so that your feet is on the ground and the knee is at a right angle with the floor.
- Put your hands on the hips.
- Start leaning forward, until you feel a stretch on your quad muscles.
- Hold it for 5 counts, release.
- Do this 10 rounds for 3 sets.
#9. Hamstring stretch
- Stand on the ground.
- Raise your arms up.
- Fold forward.
- Keep going down until you feel a stretch on your hamstring.
- Hold for 5 counts and release.
- Do this 10 rounds for 3 sets.
#10. Glutes Stretch
- Stand on the ground.
- Hold one of knees near the chest.
- Start applying pressure on the front of knee and try to push it towards your body.
- Keep in doin this until you feel a stretch on the glutes area.
- Hold the stretch for 5 counts.
- Do this for 10 rounds and 3 sets.
Although you may feel that this is a huge routine to follow for you stiff legs, however, the entire set of exercises can be peformed in 5-10 mins.
The best thing about this routine is that it has very little time investement, however, these exercises are very effective to prevent the stiffness in your legs.
Don’t skip them, this small time investment will save you from a lot of injuries and discomfort arising from stiff leg muscles.
Why do you get stiff legs when running?
There are many reasons that you get stiff legs. Below we have listed out the most common reasons for stiff legs:
No pre-run stretching routine
This may be one of the most obvious reasons for stiff legs when running. You may feel that a stretching routine is unnecessary until you try out one.
If you don’t do pre-run stretching of your legs, the muscles will be more tightly strung and you will feel the stiffness as soon as you start running.
Also, this may lead to additional injuries in the long run.
Running without warmup
After you have done your stretching routine, you should give yourself 5-10 mins of proper warmup.
This may be in the form of jogging or you can do something like high knees in place. You can also do jogging in place as well for this warmup.
Warming up before running will get the blood flowing your muscles and will warm them up. This will also reduce the stiffness of the muscles and the joints of your legs.
However, skipping this will result in some residual stiffness and you will be feeling that at every step until your body has warmed up from actual running.
But before that, it may have put some strain on your legs and you may develop some ankle soreness or shin splints, or pain in the knees.
You may be overtraining and that is making your legs stiff. Overtraining is common in runners or athletes who are a bit more experienced.
They tend to train as hard as possible and this leads to additional fatigue, headache, stiffness of both legs and body, mood swings, immunity loss, and many more things.
The primary reason for overtraining is trying to work out as hard as possible and beyond your capacity and/or not giving yourself sufficient time to recover.
This is detrimental in the long run and will give rise to muscle imbalances and injuries.
So how would you fix that?
Start having more recovery time. Also, since you have already overtrained, take your rest days seriously. You can also take an additional day off in your running routine.
This will give your body sufficient time to recover and come back stronger.
Also, if you are worried that you have spent an entire day on the couch without doing anything on your recovery day, go for a walk or any other light exercises.
You can also go for a session of restorative yoga. This will help your body to heal faster and will also relieve some stress.
Running after leg day
Leg days are killers! And you can feel that more the day after the leg day.
This is especially true if you train hard on leg days. Strength training is crucial if you want to lead a good and fit life.
Also, this is essential for runners as it provides that with the power to run longer distances. Also, this minimizes the effects of muscle imbalances and you will have an overall stronger body.
But then again, after the leg day, your legs will be sore and will feel stiffer than your regular days.
So, if you try to run after your leg day, this stiffness will be evident. Also, there is not much that you can do about that.
Instead of running with stiff legs and feeling the pain at every step, go for a rest day or active recovery day after your leg day.
This will give your body the time to recover and you will have much stronger legs on the following day.
Due to diet
This may not be very evident but this may be one of the reasons that may cause your legs’ stiffness.
First of all, if you are eating junk and not taking proper care of your diet, then your body will in general feel bloated and heavy. This will result in some stiffness in your body including your legs.
But let’s say you are taking care of your diet and are eating wholesome nutritious meals, but still getting this kind of stiffness. (Assuming none of the other reasons are there)
Observe your meals…
Although lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance are very talked-about, pulses or legumes intolerance is not that much talked about.
Check if you are getting bloated after you eat certain pulses. Common offenders can be rajma or red kidney beans, Bengal grams, and chickpeas.
I know this because my stomach doesn’t agree with red kidney beans and I bloat up like a balloon.
This invariably leads to stiffness of the body and legs.
Similar is the situation with cruciferous vegetables.
A way to avoid this will be to exclude them from the diet. However, that means you will be missing out on a lot of nutrition.
So, another possible solution may be to use some fresh ginger when you soak the lentils. This will take out that bloating component and you will have a much more stomach agreeable meal.
For cruciferous vegetables, boil them before using them and drain the water. This will make them more palatable and more easily digestible.
Change of heel-to-toe drop
All the running shoes have a heel-to-toe drop. It starts from 0 mm and goes up to 15 mm.
However, when you wear running shoes with a more heel-to-toe drop, your calves and Achilles area flex less.
The moment you change that, the stretching of these areas of your legs will be more. This will lead you to feel more stiffness in those areas until your legs get adapted again.
What should you do then?
Well, here the only solution is the pre-running stretches that I’ve listed above. Otherwise, there is no solution.
Also, this will not be a huge deal as your legs will get adjusted to this in a couple of days. Till then go for shorter runs so that you don’t put additional load on these muscles.
Wrong pronation type
Wearing a shoe to support your pronation is very important. If the shoe that you are wearing doesn’t support your pronation, then you will be more prone to stiffness in your legs and aches and pains.
For example, let’s say you have under pronation but you wear an overpronation shoe, far worse, you wear a motion control shoe, then you will have to deal with a lot of stiffness as these shoes will restrict your normal range of motion.
It is also the other way round.
So whenever you are selecting a running shoe make sure you select it as per your pronation. If you don’t know how to select the correct pair of shoes or how to check your gait, then I’ve already written articles about them. Check those out to get a more clear picture.
This is most probably the most surprising thing that you may read about stiffness of legs.
The thing is temperature has an effect on how our bodies work to a certain extent.
Think about it, when you put meat in the freezer, they become very stiff.
To get back the softness you have to thaw it. Bluntly speaking, you have to raise the temperature of the meat otherwise it will feel very stiff.
Our muscles are the same…Under cold temperatures, they tend to stiffen up and the more hot the temperature is, the more relaxed they will be.
Now how to combat if your legs are stiffer in cold weather?
Well, here also the above stretching routine will come into the picture. However, you will have to be a bit careful. Don’t use sudden movements and go slow. This will allow your legs to relax gradually and you will not develop any injuries.
Also, after the stretching as always, go for a warm-up. This way, the stiffness in your legs will be completely gone.
Running after an injury
This I have first-hand experience.
A couple of years back I had a scooter accident and I had to undergo some stitches in the heel area.
After the wound healed, There was a lot of stiffness in that area and took a long time to normalize.
You may be in a similar situation or may be different. You may have developed a sports-related injury or may be due to some accident.
If you are running after an injury, and that injury way in your legs, then you will be feeling a stiffness there.
Depending on the severity of the injury, you will either require more or less time to get back your flexibility.
So how will you deal with this?
Patience. This is the most important thing that you can do at this point in time.
Also, since it is a stiffness related to injury, you may have to follow some specific set of exercises that your doctor or physio recommended.
Thirdly, you will have to be gentle with yourself. You cannot put too much pressure on the healed area as that may lead to additional injuries.
These are the reasons that you get stiffness in your legs when running.
Should you run with stiff legs?
No, you shouldn’t run with stiff legs, even if you can. Your performance will be affected and you will not be able to run longer distances. Also, you will be more prone to developing injuries.
Don’t get me wrong, running with stiff legs is possible. However, that doesn’t mean you should do it.
If you run with stiff legs, your muscles and joints will be loaded more and this additional stress may develop into an injury.
This is especially true if you have a habit of running with stiff legs. You will find, you have painful knees or ankles or you may have developed pain in the plantar fascia of the foot.
You may also develop shin splints which in extreme cases may lead to a stress fracture.
So, it is not advisable to run with stiffness in the legs as that may lead you to take a permanent break from running for a couple of days or a couple of weeks. In severe cases, it may be a couple of months altogether.
How to get rid of stiff legs after running?
To get rid of stiff legs after running, you will have to perform a stretching routine altogether. Also, you need to check, if this stiffness is an early sign of any injury. If so, you need to check with your doctor to get that treated at the earliest.
To get rid of stiff legs after running here is the stretching routine that you need to follow:
Another good option to get rid of this stiffness can be foam rolling. You would hardly need 5-10 mins of foam rolling to get rid of this stiffness.
Also, you can use both of these techniques together to have a more powerful post-run leg stiffness banishment routine.
Blogger and a fitness enthusiast. She loves running and Yoga and everything in between. She started running to manage her weight and to eat to her heart’s content. A true foodie at heart she shares whatever knowledge she has gained throughout the years about weight management and fitness.