Should You Stretch Before or After Running?
Do you stretch before you run? If so, you might be doing more harm than good. A lot of runners believe that static stretching is the best way to prepare for a run, but this isn’t actually true. In fact, static stretching can actually lead to injuries.
If you must stretch then your best option is to stretch after running.
We have all been there. Growing up for any activity in school or in sports we spent a good 10 minutes sitting in a circle and going through stretches as a team. It was the best way to prepare for an activity right?
Probably not, at least not for most activities. Especially not the best for running and power-based sports.
What is Stretching?
There are two types of stretching: static and dynamic. Static stretching is when you reach out and touch your toes or do a lunging stretch. A static stretch is working on passive movement flexibility by assuming a maximum position and holding there.
Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, is when you move your body through a range of motion. This type of stretching is often used as a warm-up before running or working out. It helps to increase your heart rate and blood flow, which in turn will help you perform better during your run.
These are the two main types of stretching that people think of and static stretching is what we are going to focus on today. Just know there are other types of stretching as well including PNF and ballistic stretching, but those are for another day as well.
The Benefits (or lack thereof) of Stretching Before a Run (or at all)
Don’t get me wrong, stretching has some benefits. In fact, I use it almost daily in my physical therapy practice. Stretching can help ease tension and relax muscles when they are feeling tight. However, rarely will this solve the feeling of tightness someone is feeling. Usually, it is a strength issue, but that is a topic for another time.
Contrary to popular belief in the fitness world, static stretching really does nothing for performance. In fact, there is no research to support that it increases performance, decreases injury rate, or decreases muscle soreness. Actually, the research not only doesn’t support these ideas, but it also shows the complete opposite!
There was a study in 2009 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that found a statistically significant negative correlation between flexibility and running economy in runners.
What this means is that when you stretch consistently over time to improve your flexibility, as a runner you will actually result in a reduced running economy. Meaning you become a less powerful and more inefficient runner.
Nobody wants that as a runner.
So, if static stretching is so less than ideal, why do people still do it? I think there are a few reasons. First, it is easy and does not require any equipment. You can do it anywhere and don’t need anything except your body.
Additionally, many people were taught that static stretching is the best way to prepare for physical activity. We were all probably told to do a few static stretches before running or playing a sport in gym class.
However, times have changed and the research does not support this method anymore.
It’s time to change the way we think about stretching.
So, should you stretch before a run? Definitely Not.
Does Static Stretching Prevent Running Injuries?
A 2010 review published in Scandanavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports determined that static stretching had very little effect on injury prevention. Remember though, it is hard to isolate a single activity as being effective for injury prevention due to the complex, multifactorial nature of injuries. But there is little support that static stretching has any effect at all, even in a multifactorial approach.
Should Runners Stretch Before Running?
As a rule of thumb, runners really don’t need to stretch. Static stretching has been shown to have no effect on performance, injury prevention, or muscle soreness. If you are a runner and are looking for ways to improve your running, there are much better things you can do with your time!
If you find that stretching is something you just can’t part with and it makes you feel good, then the only time that a runner should stretch is following a run.
NEVER STATIC STRETCH BEFORE A RUN!
Best Stretches to do After Running
So you are someone that just needs to stretch at some point. You feel like your workout isn’t complete until you stretch. That’s fine. Just keep in mind what I said earlier.
But what are the best stretches to do after running?
I would suggest doing a few quick lower body stretches, hitting the main running muscles.
This would include a gastroc and soleus stretch, hamstring stretch, hip external rotators, and a quad stretch. Getting in a chest-opening stretch wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
What about Yoga and Running?
Isn’t yoga just a bunch of static stretching? Not exactly.
Yoga does in fact hold some static stretches but it is so much more than that. Yoga is a mind-body practice that helps to improve strength, balance, and coordination.
Yoga works more on the mobility aspects of body movement than the flexibility that comes with static stretching.
I truly believe and there is more and more research being done to support this, that yoga and running can be very complimentary in a way that static stretching cannot be.
Final Thoughts on Static Stretching for Runners
So, what does this mean for runners? In a nutshell, it means that static stretching is not really necessary and in fact can be counterproductive. There are better things runners can do with their time to improve performance.
If you find that you just cannot part with stretching, the only time it is beneficial for runners is following a run.
Who has given up on stretching for other forms of recovery and warm-up?
Articles Related to Static Stretching for Runners
- Does Flexibility Make You a Better Runner?
- Mobility for Runners
- How to Start Running without Injury
- Dynamic Warm-up for Runners
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References for Static Stretching for Runners
Henschke N, Lin CCStretching before or after exercise does not reduce delayed-onset muscle sorenessBritish Journal of Sports Medicine 2011;45:1249-1250.
Trehearn TL, Buresh RJ. Sit-and-reach flexibility and running economy of men and women collegiate distance runners. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan;23(1):158-62. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818eaf49. PMID: 19050648.
McHugh, M.P. and Cosgrave, C.H. (2010), To stretch or not to stretch: the role of stretching in injury prevention and performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 20: 169-181. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01058.x
Do You Stretch Before or After Running?
Dr. Abby Siler, PT, DPT is a Physical Therapist with 10 years of experience in a variety of settings. She has spent the majority of her time treating athletes in orthopedic clinics and worker’s compensation cases. She is a runner herself for the past 15 years and a lifelong athlete. Dr. Abby loves to teach runners how to stay injury free and out of her clinic.