To Stretch or Not To Stretch: That is the Question

In my last article, we talked about how to gradually begin running. In this article, we will talk about what to do right before you actually go run; in other words, stretching.

If you ever happened to have a physical education class in school, you are probably familiar with a stretching routine of some sort. Feet together; then, touch your toes. Sit with the soles of your feet facing inward, and press your knees toward the ground. Assume Downward Facing Dog, and transition into the Open Lotus position while simultaneously attaining enlightenment.

It seems that no matter the sport, the general belief is that this same stretching routine is beneficial to both improve performance and reduce the chance of injury. Well, I am here to tell you the truth. Listen carefully: stretching before running does not improve performance or reduce the chance of injury.

Here is how it breaks down. Flexibility is a good thing. Flexible people have a greater range of motion than people who are not flexible. A greater range of motion both improves performance and reduces the chance of injury. Well, if that is the case, why does stretching before running not improve performance and reduce injury? Here is the second part of the secret: you can only become more flexible when you are stretching at the limit of your range of motion.

Stretching before running does not improve flexibility because your muscles are not warmed up. They are tight and tense. Many people think the point of stretching is to loosen their muscles up. This is not the case. Elite athletes do not step out on the track and do toe touches before running the 5k. They go for an easy run to loosen up their muscles; then they stretch a little bit.

This is not to say that you should go for an easy run and stretch before you go out for your daily jog. For all intents and purposes, if you are going out for a regular run (whatever that may be for you), just start out easier than the pace you wish to sustain for the entire run. This will give your muscles a chance to warm up before you accelerate to your regular pace.

The time for stretching is after the run. After you have run, your muscles will be warmed up and stretched out. Any stretching you do then will be near your maximum range of motion. By stretching properly after you run, you will increase your flexibility, which improves performance and reduces injury.

The important thing is to not become bogged down in pre-run routines and rituals. If your goal is to run, get out there and run! An elaborate and time-consuming pre-run stretching routine makes it more difficult to carve out a patch of time in your day to get your endorphin high. If you just start out easy, everything will be fine.

Running is about running, not about stretching. If you want to stretch all day, go do some yoga; if you want to run, throw your shoes on and get out there. After you have trotted around town dodging dogs, waving at friends, and having a great time, if you feel like it, give that Open Lotus position another try. Happy Running!

by Carl Roberts

Carl ran Track & Cross Country through Jr. High, High School, College and now enjoys running in his free time. He has been ranked in the Top 10 in Indiana and has won many conference titles.

*It is recommended to speak to a physician  regarding new exercise regiments.