Is stretching before a run bad for you?
Let’s face it, most runners will welcome any excuse to avoid a 5-10 minute warm-up before a run. We just want to run!
So when research from New South Wales, Australia first suggested over 10 years ago that static stretching (long-hold stretching) did not reduce injury, traditional warm up routines before running were soon ditched in favor of just jogging the first five minutes.
The case against static stretching before a run was further weakened by recent research that suggests it reduces the natural leg stiffness that is required for running efficiency. As the foot makes contact with the ground, this stiffness is said to absorb energy and use it to spring forwards.
Researchers at Florida State University in 2010 showed that trained distance runners became about 5% less efficient and covered 3% less distance in a time trial if they did static stretching before the run. However, and this is the crunch, all of the above concerns static stretching, i.e. long-hold stretching (like touching your toes for 40 seconds). It is important to differentiate this from dynamic stretching, which involves controlled, repetitive sports-specific movements that mimic the way your muscles and connective tissues will need to stretch during your chosen activity, e.g. swinging your leg forwards 15 times.
A follow up study by Florida State University stated that there is no evidence that dynamic stretching before a run inhibits performance.
Dynamic stretching as a warm-up
Let’s look at an example: one of the major components of an efficient running stride is having enough range of movement in the hip flexor to allow your leg to travel back behind you before your toe leaves the ground. A dynamic stretch that mimics this hip extension, e.g. a lunge, will reduce internal resistance whilst running and improve the efficiency of your stride.
Given that many of us have tight hip flexors due to sitting down all day, a controlled dynamic stretch that progressively increases range of movement in the hip before we start running can help us run more efficiently with better form.
Although there is no evidence that one particular “running style” will reduce injury rate (no one-size-fits-all remedy), certain biomechanical inefficiencies associated with poor running form can be linked to reoccurring injury (more on that next week).
Preparation for efficient running form cannot be achieved by simply preceding your run with a five minute jog.
In being active and challenging, dynamic stretching will also promote the other well documented physical and mental benefits associated with a warm up.
What dynamic stretching should I do?
Which and how much dynamic stretching you do in your warm up will depend on your fitness level and the type of running you plan to do.
You will find many examples online but as always we suggest you consult a professional before embarking on a new exercise routine. The main message I want you to get from this article is that you do something!
Where do we go from here?
Like I say, there are plenty of sources for dynamic stretching on the internet and for those on my MNRED Running Team
The issue is ensuring you avoid the massive temptation to mess it up before you head out to run. You will come up with every excuse under the sun: “It’s too cold,” “I don’t have time,” “I’ll do extra tomorrow to make up for it.” It’s just five minutes people! Believe me, it will create focus, readiness, and mark the beginning of fewer injuries & improved running performance.
Take care, and I’ll…
See you on the roads
Lifelong runner. Professional and passionate coach helping to make running goals a reality for 30+ years. Let's get started making your running dreams come true!