​Stretching is a common ritual most runners learn to do in school. It's an intergal part of yoga, and the key to flexibility. The question is, when should you stretch? Before a run? During? After a run? Should you even stretch at all? Most physiologist say it's important, while other experts say it's not necessary.

 

Stretching

What You Should Know

​​The overwhelming majority of runners say that stretching is important, particularily after a run. If you're an habitual runner, then you'll agree with the concept that your muscles tighten up after a long run.

If you've ever ran a marathon, even a half marathon, then you know exactly what we're talking about. The lack of blood flow and oxygen careening through your legs at mile 17 suddenly stops and causes your muscles to contract faster than a clam in the sun. You can barely bend your legs to stretch it. Maybe you've seen it on the internet or watched it in one of our articles - runners shuffling like zombies to the finish line.

Those "zombies" are proof that stretching is important.  It may even be worthwhile to stop at a water station and stretch while you're sipping water (a HOT tip for first time marathoners).

Are you even stretching the right way?

According to the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, "Clinicians must choose the appropriate intervention or technique to improve muscle tension based on the cause of the tightness" (Page, P., 2012). Accordingly, there are three types of stretching techniques that are frequently described in literature:

  1. Static. Self or assisted stretches where a certain position is held for a period of time and then repeated.
  2. Dynamic. Moving a limb through its full range of motion (ROM) to the end ranges and repeated.
  3. Pre-contraction. A contraction of the muscle being stretched before stretching. (Think flexing of the muscle.)

Seasoned runners swear by the benefits of dynamic stretching, often foregoing static stretching altogether. According to Jim Wharton, a New York-based exercise physiologist, the best way to get a muscle to relax is to first tighten the muscle on the opposite side of the joint. "Instead of moving into a stretch and holding it, you gently move through a series of positions, isolating one muscle group at a time." (Wharton, J. 2014).

Wharton's theory is exactly why yoga is so awesome for runners. Yoga is an effective art that teaches one to move from one position to another, constantly engaging in different muscle groups. Check out Shaylee Hurst's Instagram (@runningonkarma) for ideas on yoga poses.

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(Images used with permission by Shaylee Hurst. Visit IG @runningonkarma)

What works for you?

What works for you might not work for others. This is a mantra you should remember as you move forward towards a healthier lifestyle. If you've been stretching before your runs and it's been working for you, keep doing it! If you keep getting injured, try something else.

The point of this article is to listen to your body. It knows you better than you know yourself!


References

Wharton, J. (2014). Why Stretching is a Waste of Time for Runners. ABC News Health. Retrieved from: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/stretching-waste-time-runners/story?id=26379580.

Page, P. (2012). Current Concepts in Muscle Stretching for Exercise and Rehabilitation. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.7(1). 109-119.


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