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True or false: “You should always stretch before running”

Ah, the age-old debate: Should you stretch before running or after your run?

It’s as divisive a topic as whether pineapple should be on pizza or whether man really did walk on the moon. You have runners on both sides of the argument shouting their opinions, with online message boards and articles dedicated solely to this controversy. There’s no doubt success on both sides – many runners cite stretching before running as a way to prevent injuries, with others claiming the opposite.

Opinions aside, how do we know what’s truly the best way and time to stretch? It seems research has concluded stretching before running isn’t in your best interest.

“There is no reason for a healthy runner with a normal range of motion to stretch before running,” says William Roberts, MD, MS, professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota. 

Does stretching before running reduce injury?

We asked Roberts if any type of runner would benefit from stretching before running. His answer was simple: “None.”

According to Roberts (and scientific evidence available), stretching before running doesn’t reduce injury, but will reduce power. 

His thoughts on stretching after running were a little more verbose.

“There is some rationale to stretching post run and this may have some benefit for tight muscles,” says Roberts. “Stretching that makes a difference for muscle lengthening should be done opposite the workout, so AM run, PM stretch or vice versa.”

What about dynamic warm-ups for runners?

The pre- and post-performance stretching argument goes hand-in-hand with another related debate: dynamic versus static stretches.

For a quick summary:

  • Static stretches are generally what we picture when we think of stretching. It’s a position that’s held for a set amount of time, and usually includes slight discomfort.
  • Dynamic stretches feature repeated movements that will progressively promote flexibility and mobility. Think of these two in the context of a quadriceps stretch versus a leg swing.

“A dynamic warm-up is far more effective and will provide any needed ‘stretch’ without reducing power,” says Roberts. “Static stretches may reduce performance and do not reduce injury.”

Why you should not stretch before running

Many proponents of stretching before running cite three reasons:

1) The first is that stretching before a run loosens muscles, which in turn boosts performance.

2) The second is that stretching before running can help prevent injuries.

3) The third reason is that stretching before a run reduces soreness.

These three reasons would be enough for any runner to wholeheartedly adopt a regular pre-run stretching regimen. Unfortunately, as Roberts mentioned, multiple studies show this isn’t the case.

With over 80 references to stretching-related studies, this chapter by Dr. Ian Shrier outlines how stretching before exercise diminishes athletic performance and doesn’t reduce the risk of injury. Additionally, a study by Robert Herbert, professor at the University of Sydney, determined stretching before exercise had little to no effect on reducing soreness associated with said activity.

If the research is clear, why then is the “stretching before running” mindset still a thing in running circles?

“I think this is a ‘cultural’ carryover from when we ran track and cross country and spent 15 to 45 minutes stretching,” says Roberts. “This has been passed down without thought as a ritual of the sport — I could have been home for dinner many times earlier without the stretching sessions!”

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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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