Do you need to stretch as a runner?
A question that is in equal measures easy and difficult to answer.
The easy answer is yes, you should stretch. It’s a super-effective way to avoid injuries in the future, aid recovery, AND makes you look less like a crumbling mess in the days after your difficult training sessions, which is all good stuff.
The reason it’s difficult is that there are some caveats, and also there are so many, pretty decent, runners out there who simply don’t stretch at all.
If you’re a member of a running club you’ve probably seen them. Running their 10,000 metres and as they turn the final bend of their session they just carry on, out of the track straight to their car.
But pay them no mind, there’s a reason they also miss sessions every other week, or spend half their lives applying KT tape to every part of their body. An important step in the journey to a happy running life is stretching.
There’s a lot of different advice floating around there these days, so here’s some…more? But we’ve tried to keep it simple and hopefully it’s of some help.
No! That is to say, you shouldn’t do what is typically called a stretch before a run.
When people talk about stretching, they usually mean it in terms of a static movement. The calf stretch or thigh stretch you learnt in school are good examples of this.
The condensed reason you should refrain from this type of stretching before a run is because the muscles are likely cold at this point, and not flexible enough in their shortened state to benefit properly from a good stretch. Actually, by doing this you risk doing yourself a bit of damage.
Dynamic stretches on the other hand, great to do before a run. After you’ve done a bit of a warm up jog, chuck in a few lunges, leg swings and butt kicks. This will free things up a bit and is a much better stretch before you go pounding the pavement.
Basically, directly after your run. Do a short cool down then get to it.
If you wait too long then your muscles are going to start stiffening up and you, again, risk injuring yourself by stretching a muscle that is too tight.
Personally my main aim after I finish running is to be sitting down in front of the TV with a cheese toastie as quickly as possible, so stretching is the last thing I want to do, but it’s only a few minutes, just get it done, then that re-run of the Walking Dead will be so much sweeter.
There are no prizes for being able to reach the farthest or pushing your stretch to the point you’re in searing agony.
Sure, some stretches do feel a bit uncomfortable, you are literally stretching yourself after all, but you should never force yourself to a point where it’s painful. Ease into your stretches slowly and smoothly. Breathe deeply and listen to your body.
A good rule of thumb is the harder the workout the shorter the stretch should be held for. If you’ve just finished up a lung-buster speed workout then try to keep each stretch held for a maximum of 10 seconds.
For shorter, easier runs we can look closer to 30 seconds. For any stretching specific sessions that you’re planning, holding for up to 60 seconds is generally a good amount.
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