To stretch or not to stretch?
Should runners stretch is always a tough question. For every piece of advice about stretching for runners, there is someone saying the exact opposite. So SHOULD runners stretch?
The short answer for me is yes — for most people.
As with most things in running, the long answer is going to depend on the individual. But let’s start about some basics of stretching.
Generally speaking, there are two types of stretching that you’ll hear people talk about:
- Static stretching — this is the traditional, hold-it-for-30-seconds approach to stretching. Advocates argue this is a great way to lengthen muscles that have been shortened during sustained activities like running. Because of that, static stretching is usually recommended post-run.
- Dynamic stretching — this can come in the form of various exercises, drills, “active isolated stretching” and similar activities. You aren’t holding the stretch in these situations, but using quick movements to loosen up. This kind of stretching is generally recommended before your run.
Following a plan of dynamic stretching before your run and static stretching after your run is the most recommended way to incorporate stretching into your routine. But will it help?
I think there are two instances where stretching will be extremely beneficial:
- If you don’t have enough flexibility to run efficiently
- If you are more flexible on one side of your body than the other
Jay Dicharry (who has written an excellent book called Anatomy for Runners that I highly recommend), says that as long as you have enough flexibility to run efficiently, you don’t necessarily benefit from having extra flexibility. But if you do have flexibility limitations, then stretching WILL help your running, and can also help reduce the chance of injuries in the future.
How do you know if you have limitations?
Dicharry has a great series of tests in his book that focus on the hip flexors, hamstrings, calves, and big toe. Passing the tests is a good indicator that you have enough flexibility to run efficiently.
However, even if you can pass the tests, you may find that one side is tighter than the other. And in that instance, it’s important to keep both sides balanced.
In my experience, it is very common for runners to have unbalanced flexibility and limitations in their flexibility, so I generally recommend a relatively simple stretching program that focuses on the hamstrings and the calves. If you are trying to really push the speed in your running, the hip flexors will become more important, as well.
So give your hamstrings and calves a quick check and see if one is tighter than the other. If the answer is yes, then it’s time to spend a little more time on your stretching routine!