TO STRETCH OR NAH?
“Well, I don’t stretch as much as I should.”
Have you been told that your running injury happened because you didn’t stretch enough?
Do I stretch? No. Do I think that not stretching has contributed to past injuries? Also no.
Stretching is not necessarily harmful, but I believe it’s overemphasized in distance runners. And if someone has told you that you're getting injured because you don't stretch enough, I will 100% challenge them. You don’t need that guilt in your life, especially when it’s extremely unlikely to be true.
We know that immediately after static stretching (holding a stretch), muscle strength is reduced & running economy is impaired (better running economy is what we want - that means you use less oxygen at a certain velocity, and it’s associated with better running performance). By stretching, we decrease the stiffness of the muscle-tendon unit - which is actually what we need for energy storage & release when running. This decrease in stiffness forces your body to work harder to propel you forward - and that can negatively impact running performance. So it's pretty clear that stretching immediately before you run isn't helpful and could even be detrimental.
But what about stretching at other times? Not a problem - regular stretching in separate sessions doesn't reduce your muscle strength or running economy in the long-term. But it also doesn't help either of those things. So it’s ok to do, but it’s likely not helping you in any way - so it may not be the most efficient use of your time. There's also no evidence to show that stretching reduces muscle soreness or injury risk in distance runners.
With all that said, most of the research is done on static stretching - holding positions for long periods. Dynamic stretching (leg swings, lunges, etc) is likely to have different effects, but we haven’t studied those movements enough yet to know for sure.
In addition, if you're coming back from an injury that limited your motion (such as being in a boot that kept your ankle in one position for several weeks), stretching may serve a role in regaining adequate motion for running. This is where seeking advice from someone familiar with the demands of running would be really beneficial - you can get some insight into whether or not stretching would be beneficial for you individually, or if something else like strengthening or stability would be your best route.
So to sum up my long-winded thoughts on stretching...
If you don't have any major restrictions in mobility or range of motion and are generally healthy, you probably don't need to stretch much, if at all
If you feel stretching is necessary or enjoy it, avoid it right before your run. Instead, warm up with 5-10 minutes of active movements similar to running - fast walking, marching, lunges.
If you do like to stretch, stretch what feels good for you - there are no inherently 'unsafe' or 'bad' stretches if you progressively work into them. If you don’t like to stretch, don’t worry about it!
Try out a dynamic warm-up instead of stretching before your next run, and let me know how it goes!
Questions on what else you can be doing to manage injuries and improve performance? Just fill out the form below and we’ll be in touch!