Should you stretch before running?
It is generally accepted that you should loosen up before exercise including running. But does it really help? Recent research suggests that some types of stretching could make little difference and can even reduce performance!
Static stretching has long been seen as a way of warming up, loosening the muscles and preventing injury, but often this type of stretching doesn’t prevent the runner picking up various aches and pains which they are prone to.
It is now thought that the better option is a more dynamic stretching warm up before running, working the muscles through some of the ranges of motion they’ll need via skipping or even hopping, rather than holding the muscles & joints in a fixed position.
An example of a dynamic stretching regime is the Fifa 11 Plus program http://f-marc.com/11plus/home/ which many football players use to warm up before training. It has been proven to prevent injuries. The Fifa program involves light jogs, light aerobic workouts and then various exercises which focus on agility.
When it comes to how much stretching the runner should do, the key quesion is whether they feel they have adequate flexibility for the performance they are looking to achieve. To train at higher intensity the runner may need more joint flexibility to take the training to the next level. But it is also important to increase strength as well as flexibility to maintain control through the stride.
It is important for runners who have detectable mobility restrictions to definately do some sort of stretching to prevent injuries. Runners with low back problems often have stiffness around the hips. Static stretching again may not be the best technique to loosen that tissue. Using a roller massage or seeing a sports massage therapist or even an osteopath would be a better approach to prevent injuries.
For runners who are already very flexible, static stretching can even make them more injury prone by pushing the joint too far. There are even studies that have found that runners with over-stretched muscles run slower!
As a means of warming down static stretching could be of some benefit, more so than before a run, as the muscles are warm and more relaxed, but it is important to be careful. After a particularly intense and damaging run like interval, hill running or a race, prolonged stretching may not be a good idea as you already have tissue that is probably damaged and needs time to rest and recover. A lovely cold (yes cold!) bath and a glass of milk would do you more good. Then book in to see the Sports Massage therapist and you will be back on the road in even better shape than ever.