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Ignore the New Rules of Stretching at Your Own Peril

Posted by Filed Under: Health & Fitness, Running Injuries, Running Tips

Most experts agree on why you should stretch:

1. Stretching enhances muscle flexibility,
2. increase’s the body’s range of motion,
3. and can alleviate muscle stiffness.

stretchingBut, as far as most athletes are concerned (that’s you!), the most important thing about stretching is that the three reasons listed above combine to help you a) perform better and b) avoid injury.

But, the rules around when you should stretch have changed and, if you’re not paying attention, you might be doing so at great risk. Indeed, if you ignore these rules, the outcome will likely be that you a) perform worse and b) invite injury!

Rule #1: Do not stretch before exercising

Why? Stretching damages cells so the body can rebuild with more flexible replacements. The bottom line talked about here (at about 2:05 in the podcast), and explained in greater detail here, is that stretching before exercising will not improve performance and may lead to injury so you’d be wise to replace pre-exercise stretching with five or ten minutes of light, warm-up activity such as brisk walking or cycling.

Rule #2: Do stretch after exercising.

Why? The repetitive, limited range of motion of many exercises (running can be one of them) can cause temporary shortening of muscles. The best time to counter these effects (stretch them!) is immediately following exercise while the muscles are warm.

Rule #3: Do Incorporate Stretching Into Your Routine as a Standalone Exercise Activity

Why? Studies have shown that treating stretching as its own type of workout is the most effective way to stretch your muscles so they’re long and supple all the time.

Putting it All Together

triangle.pngRunner’s have their cardio requirements taken care of by simply taking part in their activity of choice. In addition, most of us are familiar with the benefits of strength training. And now, we’ve got good reason to join that yoga or pilates class — because, over time, those kinds of stretching exercises do the best job of enhancing flexibility and increasing the body’s range of motion. The triangle is complete.

So, by all means, incorporate stretching into your routine.

Just do it at the right time and place.

[via Quirks & Quarks: Exorcising Myths About Exercise Photo Courtesy Spencer Olinek's Flick feed]

About Mark Iocchelli

Also known as the "Running Blogfather", I'm a 40-something marathoner who has beaten stress fractures and terrible shin splints. Now I'm running double the mileage with no pain - and I'm getting faster. I love to talk about running form and Arthur Lydiard. I also enjoy taking photographs, have a beautiful (and very patient!) wife, and am the proud father of two crazy kids. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about the site.



11 Comments
  1. Jeanne on October 19th at 1:48 pm

    All I can say is: Bikram! Bikram! Bikram! that’ll stretch ya, but good! nice work, mark!

  2. Dawn - Pink Chick on October 19th at 7:38 pm

    The suggestion I got from a running clinic I attended was to do exaggerated running motions. Things like bouncing leg lifts, jumping jacks, etc.

  3. Mark Iocchelli on October 19th at 8:30 pm

    I’m not sure that’s wise advice to follow. I think if you look at the article linked in this post, it talks about appropriate stretching but I will follow up on this.

  4. Paul on October 23rd at 7:26 am

    Mark,

    I’m not sold on the new mantra of not stretching before running. I’ve tested both ways and I certainly feel and run better if I stretch as part of my warmup. I think the keys are to 1) warmup before stretching and 2) only stretch to the point where you first feel tightness in the area you are working. Basically my pre-running stretching is limited to my ‘free range of motion’ and doesn’t attempt to extend my flexibility. That is saved for post workout.
    As the cliche’ goes “your actual mileage may vary”, but I’ve stretched pre-workout for most of my running career and the only true pulled muscle I’ve had in the past 3 years (adductor) was when I didn’t stretch before sprinting in ’04. Since then I’ve run faster and haven’t had more than ‘Old Man Soreness’ to complain about due to (I believe) stretching before sprinting. Note: I agree that you can get away with not stretching before slower paced distance running, but personally I still feel better if I stretch first.

  5. booyaa dot org» Blog Archive » Running blog post round up on October 26th at 3:20 pm

    [...] This just in: streeeeching [...]

  6. Stephanie on November 13th at 9:19 am

    I used to stretch before running, but finally took advice from all the experts to stretch after a little warmup. However, I don’t know that I can feel any difference. What is an appropriate amount of time to stretch after a 4 mile run? What about a 10+ mile run?

  7. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on November 13th at 1:06 pm

    Stephanie, just do the stretch after your run before you clean up. The problems are from stretching before the main workout.

  8. Top 10 Questions Asked by Beginning Runners » Complete Running Network on June 12th at 6:02 am

    [...] Running Network has got more great information on stretching here and [...]

  9. duchossois on April 29th at 12:08 pm

    OK, I think I understand now. Don’t stretch before running, err…unless your sprinting or doing speed work. Stretch after running some, but not too much. Or stretch when your not running at all. Or don’t because you’ll cause injury…or not. No confusion anymore. All very clear.

  10. Andrea on August 14th at 8:11 am

    I have been running for the past few months (low mileage — 2-3 miles, 3-4 times per week). I always stretch before and after running. However, I have noticed that over the past month I have developed an aching feeling in my right buttocks. Also, my right hamstring is very tight and I am having a difficult time stretching it out. I don’t understand why it is happening and why stretching is so painful for me. An injury maybe??? I noticed that the feeling goes away if I lay off from running for a week or two. However, when I return to my running routine, after I finish my run, that pain on my right side returns. Now I am starting to wonder if maybe my stretching before each run is contributing to the problem? Who knows… In any event, I am going to “experiment” by not stretching before my next run to see how I feel.

  11. Mike from Shreveport on September 14th at 9:51 am

    There’s a very good reason for not stretching before exercise: stretching a “cold” muscle can cause injury. You CAN do GENTLE “cat-like” stretching AFTER WARMING UP the muscles involved. The more intensely you intend to stretch, the more “warmed up” the muscle should be beforehand.

    But the main benefit of stretching comes after the muscle has been repeated tensed and contracted during exercise where it helps it return to its more elongated, relaxed state.

    I can vouch for the effectiveness of stretching after weightlifting and similar progressive resistance exercise for helping to prevent muscle soreness. It makes a huge difference! The same stretching before weightlifting does not seem to significantly alleviate the pain nearly as much.

    As always, please don’t do ballistic or bouncing motions when stretching! It can do more harm than good.

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