“I always stretch before my runs but a friend told me the other day that I shouldn’t bother as it can make you run slower? Should I stop or could this increase risk of injury? My calves are always tight so I am worried.”
Running Fitness Magazine, October 2014
Many runners get confused as to what they should be doing in their warm up, and indeed whether a warm up is even really needed. By ‘stretch’ I am going to assume that you are referring to ‘static’ stretching, i.e. holding each stretch position for 10 seconds or more.
Many of us were brought up to believe static stretching before running can help reduce risk of injury and/or increase running performance but in reality neither of these are supported by any scientific evidence.
Studies suggest at best static stretching does nothing; at worst it can slightly decrease performance. Personally, that’s enough reason for me to drop it entirely from my warm up, but to the uninjured runner who says it makes them ‘feel’ good I say carry on if you want but you could be using the time to warm up in a potentially more effective way.
By more effective I am referring to dynamic mobility drills: lunges (forward, reverse, sideways, diagonal), leg swings, fire hydrants, calf pumps, etc. For me the emphasis of a warm up should be to encourage mindful movement, get the communication between your brain and muscles switched on, commonly referred to as neuromuscular preparation. Research has shown that dynamic mobility drills do not inhibit performance like static stretching, and increase range of movement just a s much as static stretching.
One important note: if you do decide to take static stretching out of your warm up, do it gradually. Some research has shown that stopping it suddenly can increase risk of injury, so as with any change to your routine (new trainers, hill running, going off road, etc.) make it gradual. For more info, have a look at the ‘Focus on Stretching’ feature I have written in this month’s edition of Running Fitness. Hope this helps!
Matt Phillips is the in-house Running Injury Specialist for UK magazine Running Fitness. Buy your copy today in all good magazine outlets, e.g. WHSmiths.