When to stretch

The runners have spoken, well 2,621 of them have, and the most popular time for a runner to stretch is immediately after a run, though is this the best time? With a lot of conflicting advice out there, we take a look at what the professionals and studies recommend.

Only 13% of runners will stretch before going for a run compared to 45% who stretch after, 42% do both.

Static Stretching

This low number stretching before a run may be due to static stretching now being viewed as a possible way to injure and some studies show that it can in fact decrease performance. The 2009 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that football players who did static stretches before a 30-metre sprint had slower times than those that didn’t stretch at all.

Authors speculate that this may be as it reduces musculoskeletal stiffness, meaning less bounce is generated with each step giving the runner free energy. This could be the reason that despite running faster, those that didn’t stretch burnt fewer calories and were perhaps running more efficiently.

As much as it may not help before a run, static stretches do have their advantages. Livestrong points out that such stretches can improve flexibility, help relax the body (and mind), and balance your body by helping problems such as poor posture. So, though they may not be best before a run, they can still be beneficial after one.

Dynamic Stretching

The overwhelming amount of advice out there now recommends dynamic stretching before running. The NHS describes dynamic stretching as ‘performing gentle repetitive movements, such as arm swings, where one gradually increases the range of motion of the movement, but always remains within the normal range of motion.’ 

It's hard for everyone to find this time to stretch properly though, even double gold medal winners such as Dame Kelly Holmes admit to finding it hard to make the time, as she commented '(It's) so important and my downfall. It would save a lot of tension in the body that causes tight muscles. I am going to start going to yoga and pilates classes…'

Yoga and pilates

So perhaps looking at it as a seperate activity with highly focused stretching such as yoga and pilates is the way forward. It can prevent injury, build flexibility and strength, and also prepare you mentally for races. Many high profile athletes, such as Ryan Giggs, have noted how yoga has helped them extend their professional careers, and kept injuries to a minimum.

For an effective running oriented yoga have a look at this simple warm-up sequence from The Running Bug.

Our conclusion

As with most running advice it is best to find what suits you personally, the best way to do this is through experimenting. Any seasoned runner knows that this is very much the case with nutrition, especially on race days with the vast array of gels, bars, snacks and hydration now available, it is the same with stretching.

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