To stretch or not to stretch??

That is the question of the day! When is the best time to stretch? Should I stretch before my runs or after them? Should I stretch at all?

I have a small confession…I am not a regular stretcher…
I have been really sore lately, and have been noticing how tight my hamstrings have been. I’m trying to make the extra effort to incorporate stretching consistently into my life. I can guarantee I will never be a yogi, but the benefits of flexibility is something I could really benefit from!

I knew my fair share already about stretching, but I decided to delve a little deeper. I learned that stretching is a hotly debated issue in the running community. Over the years, experts have changed their tune from once thinking stretching before a run was absolutely necessary, to the belief that runners benefit from stretching dynamically beforehand with static stretching afterwards.

The theory seems to be based on the fact that stretching beforehand (dynamic) will gently loosen up your muscles and prevent injury. Running is an activity that is repetitive and hard on the body. The motions of a runner are stuck in the same plane: We aren’t jumping up and down and moving all over the place, so to put the body through an 8-10 minute stretching session could end up hurting the muscles plus fatigue them more quickly. When you are stretching statically, you are holding the muscle groups for long period of time and the intense stretching can put them through unnecessary pre-run trauma.
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(Source)
So just what IS dynamic stretching and static stretching? Simply put:

Dynamic stretching involves focusing on gradual increases as you reach into the stretch without jerking motions. Static stretching requires you to stretch as far as you can and hold that stretch.

Source

So how to do it right? Dynamic stretches beforehand and statically stretching afterwards.

My favorite dynamic stretches to warm up I learned from runnersworld. For the full article, you can click here

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And some awesome static stretches for after your runs…

Head Bend
Standing straight, stretch your left arm up and bend it behind you, placing your left hand against the back right side of your head. Gently pull your head toward your left shoulder until you can’t bend it further, then hold this position for 30 seconds. Gently release your head, then repeat with your right arm to bend your head toward your right shoulder. This stretches your neck and upper trapezius muscle.

Arm and Shoulder Stretch
In an upright position, let your shoulders relax, with your arms hanging at your side. Bring your right arm forward and across your body. With your left hand, grab your right elbow and pull it into and across your body until you feel a pull in your shoulder and arm. Hold this position for 30 seconds, relax and repeat for your other side.

Trunk Rotation
Stand up straight with your feet evenly placed approximately your shoulders’ width apart. Put your hands on your hips and bend forward as low as you can. Hold this position for a few seconds, then rotate yourself until you’re bending to your right. Hold, then rotate until you’re bending backward and holding still for a few seconds. Slowly rotate one last time and bend to the left, completing the rotation to fully stretch your abdominal region and hips.

Hamstring Stretch
Lie on your back on the floor with your legs straight and your arms resting at your side. With your left leg straight and still on the ground, raise your right foot toward the ceiling while keeping your right leg straight. Once you’ve straightened your right leg as much as possible, hold it in the air for 30 seconds before lowering it and repeating for the left side. This stretches your legs, focusing on the hamstring region on the back of your leg.

Quadriceps Stretch
Unlike your hamstrings, the quadriceps involve the front of your upper leg. In a standing position, lift and bend your right leg backward. With your left hand, reach behind you and grab your right ankle. Gently pull your right foot up toward your buttocks. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then relax and return your foot to the ground. Repeat for the left leg.
Source

Everybody is different-these are some of my favorites, and you probably have your own favorite go to stretches to warm you up and stretch you back out again.

In my research of the how to’s, I also stumbled across some articles by some experts recommending not stretching at ALL. I thought it was worth mentioning to you all since you might set up shop in the “I don’t need to stretch” camp. Their theory is based on the fact that people are born either really flexible, or really tight. For someone who is already “really flexible” stretching could make them prone to injury. Their theory supported other ways to stretch yourself out too, like foam rolling or a massage therapist. That’s all fine and dandy but unless you are a millionaire or Deena Kastor—I highly doubt your’e going to keep a massage therapist on your retainer (but can you IMAGINE if you did? And if this is ever your situation, please can I come over?)

For me, somewhere in the middle of that seems to be perfect-a bit of dynamic, a bit of static-and all is well with the world.
I am trying to get better at stretching. Honestly, I often am rushing around after a run trying to get to my next destination and don’t always make stretching a priority. This week: its my goal to do a little bit of dynamic stretching when I start, and static stretching afterwards to see if it improves my running. On the days where I make SURE I stretch after my runs-I have noticed a fairly big difference in the tightness of my muscles the following day. My own soreness also depends on the intensity and longevity of my run: The days that I feel the most muscle tightness/soreness are the ones following a long run, or a sprint/Yasso workout. I know that if I want to be the best runner I can be-I need to make sure I take the time to get my muscles in tip top shape!

do you stretch? If so, How often
I definitely stretch after my long runs, and am now going to make it a point to do so after all my workouts, too!

Run Free, Run Strong!

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17 thoughts on “To stretch or not to stretch??

  1. I am not a huge stretcher either. I had an IT band injury a few years back and realized the importance of trying to get some stretching in after a run. I am still not great with it. I need to put more focus on it. I have The Stick though and I love using that!

  2. Thank you for this informative post – my muscles (especially my hamstrings) tend to get tight from running and I definitely need to do more stretching. I downloaded some 10 minute “yoga anywhere” routines that I try to do after each workout. Like you, I’m far from a “yogi” but have benefited from the added flexibility. My two favorite poses are downward dog and pidgeon pose – both are perfect for runners!

  3. Great post and very informative! Thanks!
    I use The Stick to roll out my legs for a few minutes before running and then after running (especially long runs), I usually do yoga.

  4. Another great post! I’m so glad to see that you specified holding the stretches for 30 seconds, that’s very important. My thought is that we’re all born with great flexibility… but then we go to school and are “trained” to sit for many hours. And that’s where the problems begin because the sitting position is the opposite of the running movement. I think that any runner who is stuck in a chair for 5+ hrs a day (which is most of us) should do the stretches you listed. I fell into the “I don’t need to stretch” category for many years. But once I started stretching regularly I felt like running got easier and had fewer annoying aches & pains in the morning.

    • That’s a really great point-I am on my feet all day and try to sit when possible-my feet kill by the end of the day if I dont. Yet, after a day of
      Sitting-it’s more my back that I feel when I stand up again. Sometimes you can’t win! I feel less aches when I stretch out and I am really trying to make sure I keep it up!
      Great response!

  5. I always do a dynamic warm-up before a run and ALWAYS stretch after. I’m one big giant knot so I always feel 10x worse if I don’t. Believe me, I’d rather not have to because it takes time…but it’s better than being in worse pain than I already am! 🙂

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