The all too famous runners debate…”should I be stretching, and if so when is the optimal time to stretch, before or after my runs?” We’ve tried to touch on this subject before in our article Truth about Muscle Soreness, yet many runners are still unsure about their own stretching routine. Their questions often times don’t get solid answers due to recommendations varying from expert to expert, with research alone still producing conflicting results. So what is one runner to do when they have these unanswered questions?!
According to an article from USAToday.com regarding stretching, “most fitness experts now agree static stretching before exercise is not just counter-productive, but potentially harmful. Traditional stretches, like when people bend over to touch their toes, often cause the muscles to tight rather than relax – exactly the opposite of what is needed for physical activity.” They compare this type of stretching to extending a rubber band past its limit.
The article went on to say that “instead of stretching, many experts recommend warming up with a light jog. That type of light movement increases the heart rate and blood flow to the muscles, warming up the body temperature.”
An article from LiveStrong.com agrees by stating that warming up with static stretches in which you grab a part of your body and hold or bend and touch your toes, is actually now “considered outdated, ineffective, and even dangerous.” They go on to explain that many experts agree that this type of stretching can cause fatigue. They also suggested that the best way to prepare yourself for a run is to perform dynamic stretches: “light activity that raises your heart rate while readying your muscles for exercise.”
Yet we also have reports on the other side of the spectrum with an article from CoolRunnings.com states “a good and consistent stretching program can save you a lot of trouble and keep you running when you might otherwise become injured.” They go on to tell you holding stretching for 30 to 40 seconds, such as static stretches, are key; this is exactly what many other articles tell you not to do.
One thing they do all agree on is the fact you should not stretch “cold” muscles. The Cool Runnings article states that a gentle warm-up of 5 to 10 minutes of a pre-run stretch should be done to warm muscles which help them to stretch more easily.
An article from Running.About.com goes right along with this concept stating that “most experts agree that it’s never good to stretch cold muscles. Stretching cold, tight muscles or improper stretching can lead to muscle strains, tears, or other injuries.”
While there can many be misconceptions as to whether you should stretch before or after a run, we believe it all comes down to what works best for you. Many runners swear by stretching before, they are able to produce longer lasting better runs. While many state they never stretch before or after runs and have never had any problems with it. Some prefer stretching after their runs to help them from becoming too tight the next day.
MedicineNet.com puts it simply by stating “as for how often and when to stretch, the simple answer is whenever you feel like it.” They go on to recommend trying out an experiment with yourself as to what works best for you and your body. Their experiment example goes as such: stretch before your run for one week, then stretch after your run the following week, then stretch before and after your run the next. You could also possibly go as far as to not stretch at all one week as well.
During this experiment you make notes as to how you feel, how your performance is, and any other observations you find. This will help you determine how your body responds to each and what works best for you! From our findings we suggest trying out this experiment, doing what works best for you, and stop listening to these other so called “experts” and “studies”. Everyone is different, do you!
For more info check out The Ultimate Runner’s Guide for some pre- and post-run moves tailored to your specific type of running. If you come to find out you prefer stretching before your runs, try out these Pre-Run Poses for Better Running. If you prefer stretching after your run, here are some great Post-Run Stretches to give a try. Just remember, there is no wrong or right, experiment and find out what works best for you and your body.