There seems to be a love-hate relationship between runners and stretching. One question I see over and over again in the running community is "do I really need to stretch?" which often leads to the ever-controversial question of "before or after my run?"
First, let's define the two major types of stretching:
1. STATIC stretching involves holding a specific position for 30-60 seconds at a time in order to elongate a muscle group.
2. DYNAMIC stretching, conversely, involves movement. It uses the movement of muscle groups to initiate the stretch. Examples of dynamic stretches are high kicks, leg swings or lunges with a torso twist. You'll notice that these movements look like a runnner's warmup.
So--do runners need to stretch? And if so, when and how? The short answer is--it's a little complicated. Since there are no clear yes/no answers, let's look at what the sciences says:
When it comes to stretching BEFORE a run:
some studies show that STATIC stretching before a run can actually impede performance, does not help to prevent injuries and can even impair muscle performance for up to 24 hours!
DYNAMIC stretching before a run, however, has been shown to prove beneficial by warming up the body and muscles and preparing muscles to fire. This can go a long way in preventing injuries.
What about AFTER running?
This is where things get complicated.
Some experts believe that STATIC stretching is beneficial post-run and helps to alleviate muscle soreness. But research has shown that static stretching post-run doesn't really aid in muscle recovery.
Science and experts aside, static stretching after a run usually feels good for a lot of people and aids in relaxation of muscles. So clearly it can be beneficial.
If you are not a fan of post-run stretching, you are likely not missing out on any recovery benefits.
The bottom line is that stretching can be an important part of your running routine, but isn't absolutely necessary for muscle health and recovery. The best formula seems to be DYNAMIC stretching before a run and STATIC stretching post-run.
For myself, I absolutely perform both dynamic and static stretching and find it beneficial for mobility, feelings of wellbeing and muscle relaxation. And since warming up before a run is absolutely beneficial, dynamic stretching before I hit the trail just makes sense.
So, do you stretch? I'd love to hear about YOUR routine.