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Stretching for Runners: I'm a Believer

Should I stretch before or after I run?

How long should I hold a stretch?

What specific stretches should I do?

Does stretching really prevent injuries?

Dual_stretching_4 So much debate about stretching.   And I don’t understand why.  No wonder everyone from beginning to highly experienced runners are confused and disenchanted with stretching.

When it comes down to stretching, I think for many of us the bottom line is time.  It delays our shower and getting on with our daily routine and commitments.  Still, most runners who have consistently embraced stretching would likely admit that it is worthwhile. 

I stretch for several reasons:

  • Stretching leaves me feeling better—energized, more flexible, and more fit
  • Stretching improves how I recover from a run, reducing stiffness and soreness
  • Stretching impacts the quality of my next run and my ability to increase mileage more comfortably

So what stretching exercises are best? Easy.  The ones that fit your needs.  If your back is prone to tightness, stretch it.  Have a history of IT band problems? stretch it.  A running friend seems to have been born with tight calves, so he stretches his lower legs religiously

Eight basic stretches hit all the critical areas for runners. 

  • Hamstrings
  • Groin
  • Back
  • IT Bands
  • Calves
  • Achilles
  • Quads
  • Hips

I do the first four exercises on the floor; then move to the kitchen counter or a wall for the calves and quads and hips.  I stretch after running, holding all stretches for a count of about 25 - 30 second and repeat each.  Completing all eight stretches takes about 15 minutes or less after running.  These stretches work great in front of the TV if your family doesn’t mind the odor from your sweaty running.  Runners' World has a wide variety of articles and videos on stretching these muscles.

Stretching doesn’t bullet-proof our bodies.  However, through decades of running, I’ve never had a torn muscle, stress fracture, surgery, or any lay off that a week of rest couldn’t heal.

I believe stretching helps me get the most success and enjoyment from my running.

Dual stretching on Flickr by Flamed

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Comments

suzanne

i think i am paying for the fact that i don't stretch enough right now! very timely post! will check out that link!

Nitmos

I've heard it said that stretching is good but there is a danger in "overstretching". This seems obvious but most folks, me included, don't know exactly when they are overstretching a muscle. I think of stretching as loosening or relaxing the muscles and joints rather than pulling or streeeetching them.

Amanda

I don't usually stretch in correlation with getting to run or having finished a run, but I do stretch every day... I wonder if doing it closer to the activity will make a difference?

RoadrunnerChick

I don't stretch before running (thinking that stretching cold muscles is a more likely setup for the said overstretching) but I always stretch after running when they are warm. If I'm short on time, I'll only do my hams and quads. Otherwise, I'm feeling all in-flexy the rest of the day. I agree that it helps with recovery as well as preparing for the next run.

Nat

i like the stretching post-run. I did a thing with one of the orthopods here you said that stretching before was not so good because if encourages tears in the muslce or something. He recommended if you are going to do it, to run for 5 to 10 minutes first. Then stop and stretch. Just my two cents.

kara

I agree - stretching is important. I think it even prevents injuries.
I stretch after I run.
Note -
Despite all my years of stretching - I'm still becoming less elastic : (

William carter

Great post Tom.

I am so guilty of not stretching. I try to make time to do it at least after I run, but never seem to have the time or make the time to get it done. One of my New Year's resolutions was to stretch more and well you can guess how that is going...

Hope all is well.

Database Diva

To avoid over stretching, move slowly and stop when you first feel resistance instead of pulling until everything is tight, or you start to feel pain. According to my physical therapist, it is the point where you first start to feel the stretch that will help you increase your flexibility. Going further just puts you at risk for injury.

Thanks for another great article. You guys have outdone yourselves this week.

Anne

Nice reminder that there are many benefits to post-run stretching. Running regularly shortens muscles, which is one reason to stretch out afterwards. Pre-run stretching is the one that tends to cause injuries if done before the muscles are warmed. That's been my experience, at least. Good post -- thank you for bringing up this important subject.

viv

Yesterday, I took the time to strech with the pilates reformer, and had such a nice loose run today. So, yes I must make time to strech more. Thanks for the reminder, Tom :-)

jason kenny

put some bird feed/ wildlife feeds outside your garden.

skirk

stretching can be done pre AND post if needed. you can always warm your muscles up with a job, bike ride, jumping jacks and thing that would support blood flow and warming of your muscles. once you hit that sweating point, you could stretch. in the army, we do a two minute warm up jogging in place which kinda works but not too well. the standard of 5-10 minutes seems to work well. your post run stretch is key though. partnered assisted stretching is always the best, i think. they motivate you and push the stretches more than you naturally can. 25-30 seconds of stretching a particular muscle is good but doing it in repititions will give you better gains. stretch as much as often to stay limber and your muscles will thank you later. i promise!

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