9 Mobility Exercises All Runners Should Add To Their Routine

They’re like lube for your joints.

The best mobility exercises for runners.

Running involves a lot of moving parts. You swing your arms back and forth, take big steps really quickly, and essentially hop from foot to foot as you go. Because of all the mechanics required to propel you forward, fitness trainers strongly recommend that runners do mobility exercises on the reg.

Instead of going straight into a run, you’ll reap more benefits if you spend a few minutes on mobility exercises first, says Kris Fabbri, a certified running, group fitness instructor, and cycle coach at Life Time. “Mobility exercises are an essential and often overlooked part of the training process that help prevent injury, increase range of motion, improve running form, assist with better posture, and improve running performance,” she tells Bustle. In short: “Mobility directly impacts how well you run.”

If you’re regularly logging miles, the most important parts to focus on are the hips, knees, and ankles. “Your hips are the key to balance and drive,” Fabbri says. “They impact your running efficiency because they connect the legs to the core.” If your hips are tight or stiff, you’ll notice it right away because it’ll prevent you from achieving your best speed and power, she says.

Of course, any type of knee or ankle pain will also slow you down. Knee aches and tightness are both prohibitive to walking, Fabbri says, let alone running, which is why it’s important to “oil” your knees with a few key moves. The same is true for your ankles, which absorb a lot of shock as you land. “When there is any kind of limited ankle mobility, that extra force transmits to the rest of the joints in your legs — your knees and hips — and creates an imbalance that puts you at risk for injury,” she adds. Again, mobility directly impacts how you run, how you feel while you run, and whether or not you’ll want to run again tomorrow.

Sold on mobility exercises? Here are a few to try before your next jog.


Rear Elevated Split Squat

martin-dm/E+/Getty Images

This one-legged exercise challenges your balance and works your core, says Tanya Branco Scott, an exercise physiologist and certified Balance Body Pilates instructor. “Your calves, hamstrings, quads, and glutes are also challenged unilaterally,” she tells Bustle. “That’s helpful for your running, which requires you to drive off of one leg with each stride.”

- Stand in a lunge position.

- Place your back foot on an elevated surface, like a bench or box.

- Bend your front knee to lower into a lunge.

- Keep lowering until your thigh is parallel to the ground.

- Check to see that your front knee stays behind your toes.

- Extend your legs to drive back up to the start position.

- Do two sets of 6 to 8 reps.

- Repeat on the opposite side.




This Pilates move builds up the strength in your back, core, hamstrings, and glutes, Branco Scott says. It also gives you a nice stretch in the hip flexors, quads, and torso. “Stronger back and core muscles will improve your posture to keep you upright as you fatigue, which keeps you running and breathing more efficiently,” she says.

- Lie on your back.

- Rest your hands at your sides.

- Bend your knees and place both feet flat on the floor beneath your knees.

- Engage your abs and glute muscles by pushing your lower back into the ground.

- Raise your hips up to create a straight line from your knees to shoulders.

- Squeeze your core.

- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.

- Lower your hips to the ground.


Multiplanar Leg Swings


Emily Higgins, CPT, a certified personal trainer and runner, recommends doing leg swings. “These are a great mobility exercise for the hip flexors and can also serve as a nice active stretch for hamstrings, adductors, and abductors,” she says. “I also love it because it requires movement in all planes of motion, which increases the efficacy of the desired mobility improvements.”

- Stand with your legs hip-width apart.

- Raise one leg off the ground while keeping it straight.

- Swing it back to front while balancing on the other leg.

- Repeat this motion 4 to 6 times, aiming to increase leg height each time.

- Change the motion so it’s diagonal from your hip and repeat this about 4 to 6 times.

- Change the swinging motion from side to side, so your leg is swinging laterally across the front of your body. Repeat this 4 to 6 times.

- Repeat all these movements on the other leg.

- Complete this full exercise 3 to 5 times.


Downward Dog Pedaling


According to Celeste Compton, PT, DPT, WCS, a physical therapist with Origin Physical Therapy, this exercise is ideal if you’re looking to improve your knee and ankle mobility. She recommends doing it before a run.

- Begin in a high plank position.

- Push through your hands as you lift your hips up to the ceiling.

- Keep your shoulders away from your ears and your arms straight.

- Begin to lift and lower your heels towards the ground in an alternating pedaling motion.

- Continue pedaling for 30 seconds.


High Knees


This exercise addresses knee and hip mobility, Compton says, and can also help you warm up before a jog.

- Begin in a standing position.

- Bend your elbows 90 degrees with your palms in front of you and facing down towards the floor.

- Start to run in place.

- With each step, try to bring your knees into the palms of your hands.

- Do 2 to 3 30-second rounds.


Butt Kicks


Following the high knees, Compton recommends giving butt kicks a try. (They’re just what they sound like!)

- Begin in a standing position.

- Move your arms behind you so the backs of your hands are resting on your glutes.

- Start to run in place.

- With each step, try to kick your heels up into your hands.

- Do 2 to 3 30-second rounds.


World’s Greatest Stretch


This move is so much more than a feel-good stretch. According to Compton, it helps to address trunk and hip mobility — hence why it’s great to do before a run.

- Begin in a high plank position.

- Step one foot forward along the outside of your hand on the same side.

- Keep your back leg straight as you bend your front knee and lift the hand closest to your front foot off of the ground.

- Take your raised arm and bend your elbow 90 degrees as you bring your bent elbow along the inside of the ankle of your front leg, forearm parallel to the ground.

- Twist your torso towards your front leg as you straighten your elbow and reach your arm up towards the ceiling.

- Repeat for 30 seconds, then switch sides.


Foot Flexion


Foot mobility is incredibly important for runners, according to personal trainer Melissa Nagai. “If a runner has lack of mobility in the feet — or even the toes and ankle — it can cause the calves, Achilles, and plantar fascia to become tight,” she says. “The knees and hips can also start to have pain when a runner doesn’t have good dorsiflexion at the toes and ankles.”

- Sit with your legs extended in front of you.

- Start with your feet flexed.

- Slowly point your toes forward.

- Imagine that you are trying to pick something up with the arch of your foot.

- Slowly draw your toes back up, feeling a stretch in the arch of your foot.

- Repeat 8 to 10 times.


3-Point Crab


Run coach Eric Orton is a big fan of the three-point crab. “This is a great exercise to lengthen the quad and hip flexor,” he tells Bustle. “It will also challenge your shoulder mobility, which helps with arm swing and breathing while you’re running.”

- Start on all fours.

- Balance on opposite hand and foot.

- Step the opposite foot through to reverse tabletop.

- Rotate your body so your chest is facing the sky.

- At full rotation, extend your hips as high as possible and lift your hand to the sky.

- Repeat on the other side.

Studies referenced:

Afonso, J. (2021). Strength Training versus Stretching for Improving Range of Motion: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Healthcare (Basel). doi: 10.3390/healthcare9040427.

Baxter, C. (2017). Impact of stretching on the performance and injury risk of long-distance runners. Res Sports Med. doi: 10.1080/15438627.2016.1258640.

D’Isanto, T. (2019). Running and Posture. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise. DOI:10.14198/jhse.2019.14.Proc4.68

Konrad, A. (2021). The Impact of a Single Stretching Session on Running Performance and Running Economy: A Scoping Review. Front Physiol. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2020.630282.

Konrad, A. (2021). The Influence of Stretching the Hip Flexor Muscles on Performance Parameters. A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(4).

Pelletier-Galarneau, M. (2014). Review of running injuries of the foot and ankle: clinical presentation and SPECT-CT imaging patterns. American Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, 5(4), 305-316.

Śliwowski, R. (2014). The Effects of Individualized Resistance Strength Programs on Knee Muscular Imbalances in Junior Elite Soccer Players. PLoS ONE, 10(12).


Kris Fabbri, run coach with Life Time

Tanya Branco Scott, exercise physiologist, certified Balance Body Pilates instructor

Emily Higgins, CPT, certified personal trainer

Dr. Celeste Compton, PT, DPT, WCS, physical therapist with Origin Physical Therapy

Melissa Nagai, personal trainer

Eric Orton, run coach, author