Stretches for Running: Should You Stretch Before Running?

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I have always stretched before I go running. But recently I was talking to my wife, and she said it was BAD to stretch before running. Then I heard my brother and a friend mention the same thing, stretching before running actually increases the risk of injury. What?? I thought they were all crazy! So, I set out to do some research on my own and figure out what the latest is on the subject.

I mean all growing up in the 80s, my elementary PE teacher Ms. Newman always taught us to stretch well – but don’t bounce will you do it!! So, I’ve always implemented nice slow stretching before I begin a rigorous activity like running, racquetball, or basketball to loosen up. So, who is right: my elementary PE teacher or what my friends and family are telling me today?

Okay, after doing some research, I’m shocked! The research has changed is actually still debated by experts in the field. However, there is indeed a growing number of studies that show stretching cold before a run is not a good idea. Essentially stretching involves increasing flexibility (no debate here), but that process can have negative results if not done properly.

If you can do at least a 5 to 10 minute warm-up before you stretch, this will probably provide the most advantage. Stretching while your muscles are “cold” could actually increase risk of injury because this stretching immediately weakens tendons or muscles (even if just very slightly). This makes sense.

There was an interesting study done a couple of years ago, that actually showed that subjects that stretched before running compared to those who did no stretching at all, actually had decreased endurance during their runs. So, not only could stretching before a run increase the risk of injury, it could also cause you to not perform at your peak endurance. Interesting.

Now having said that, doesn’t mean that stretching is bad. Performing stretches do indeed improve flexibility, but the benefit of preventing injuries is still debated. Some still promote stretching before running and others do not. So, its certainly not a settles issue in the medical community.

So what can people agree on? Well, for the most part experts tend to agree that if you perform a sufficient warm up before your run, then stretching after this warm up is okay. This warm up might include walking, very light jogging, easy lunges, or other simple exercises. Once your muscles have been warmed up, then some stretching can be performed.

Most experts also agree that stretching after a run is a good idea.

Stretches for Runners: Static and Dynamic Stretching

This actually moves me on to the next point that my PE teacher from the 80s always told me…only do static stretching! Well, turns out she might be wrong on that too (not blaming her as the research has clearly changed over the years). Apparently there are all kinds of different stretching types including, ballistic stretching, dynamic stretching, active stretching, and more. Static stretching is not encourage by most experts, at least not in high volumes.

So, now I need to change up my entire warm up and stretching routine!

In order to prevent injuries, rather than stretching before a run, its a good idea to do more strength training and cross training. Doing the right types of strength training will do much more for injury prevention than any type of stretching. So, if you have not worked in any cross training days into your running schedule, you should really consider that. Also, lifting weight or doing other types of strength training can also be a big help in preventing injuries.

Overall, I guess it turns out my wife and others were right! Stretching before running is not a good idea! The only time you should be stretching before your run is if you make sure you do a good warm-up first. Once your muscles are “warm” you can implement some light stretching, if you want. But its certainly not required or even recommended by everyone.

What are you thoughts? Are you stretching before you run still, if so, I would love to hear any comments or questions that you might have!

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