Stretch
Training > Injuries

Should you stretch before running?

To stretch or not to stretch? Some seem to swear by it, whilst there are fast runners a-plenty out there who deem stretching as overrated and do almost none at all. Our expert Rob Stewart gives us the lowdown...

This question usually sparks much debate and differing opinions within the world of coaching, exercise science and athlete testimony. At races or training sessions you’ll see a whole host of stretching behaviours, from the elaborate, almost impossible contortions to the aggressively rigid non-stretcher. But who is right? The answer is far from simple.

As far as stretching before hard sessions is concerned (those most likely to cause injury), the first thing to establish is what a ‘hard run session’ is. To call on my own experience as an endurance runner who trains on the track regularly I have my own ideas, but this will be significantly different from that of a sprinter or 1,500m runner. The time that a sprinter spends preparing, stretching and doing strength and stability exercises prior to an effort always far outweighs the length of the effort itself. In endurance running, it’s unlikely we’d be doing sprints as the bulk of a hard efforts session, so let’s assume that we mean a threshold or VO2 max session up to 5km in total.

Stretching can be pretty traumatic. That deep burning feeling you get is fibres tearing at a microscopic level. There are two distinct types of stretching: static and dynamic. The former is where you adopt a position and hold, and the latter is where you’re stretching actively, concentrating more on technique and running form while never ‘holding’ the stretch.

There’s quite conclusive consensus that static stretching before running has a negative effect on both the strength and power that the athlete can produce. It can also make the session feel harder. Specifically looking at endurance running, static stretches have been shown to reduce the distance that seasoned endurance runners can cover in a time trial.

Studies have shown that these negative effects attributed to static stretching are not replicated when runners do a dynamic warm-up. When I coach groups, we always do a good 20mins of dynamic warm-up activities such as light jogging, running technique drills and even hopping. The purpose of this is to prepare the body for a hard session while reinforcing an efficient running motion.


Dynamic warm-ups and stretching are shown to be more effective than static stretches before a race or tough run session


As I mentioned, this is a contentious issue and the debate is ongoing. I base my opinion on studies and personal experience – but that isn’t to say static stretching doesn’t have a place, especially for those who have mobility issues which can lead to further injury. This said, alternative methods of managing injuries such as physio, strength and stability work (e.g. pilates), or even a foam roller may be a better alternative. 


What do you think? let us know in the comments!


 
 

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stormchaser

Very topical subject area at the moment - it seems complex but it depends on your personal background and fitness/experience - most of us 'know' our bodies but science in sport is advancing
From my own experience I used to static stretch before any run or tri event - however this summer I noticed that static stretching actually put strain on my calf muscles especial when road running - I do try to avoid the hard surfaces
Looking back 30 years when I first started triathlon there were many events - especially half ironman, I did without static stretching - I have come around to the idea that a slow dynamic method may be the best way forward - e.g walking and stretching jogging slow building up pace for 15 mins or
so - with winter upon us I would also suggest wearing tights and suitable tops to avoid cold muscles!

TriathlonDaddy

"Yes" 

Baldy

I used to but now don't having been advised against stretching cold muscles. I do, however, still do my hip flexor stretches as these bad boys have given me issues in the past.

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