To Stretch or Not to Stretch, the Debate Continues

By , SparkPeople Blogger
As a runner I have always had a stretching routine, however only after I am done with my runs, but not always. I have never stretched before my runs. I always start my runs with a brisk walk or nice slow jog for 5-10 minutes before I get into the meat of my run. This is a practice I have adhered to since I took up running almost 4 years ago and something that I do not plan on changing anytime soon.

The subject of stretching brings up varied responses from athlete to athlete, coach to coach, even exercise physiologist to exercise physiologist--a subject that does not seem to have a right or wrong answer. As diverse as we are as individuals, same is true for how we approach the subject of stretching. In other words, "we are all an experiment of one" consequently, what works best for me may or may not work well for you.

In talking with new runners, they are so eager to follow the lead of those who came before them. But my role as a coach is to guide them to what works best for them-- not their neighbor who has been running for over 30 years who never stretches or the memories of their high school coach who insisted that they stretch before every run. It's about learning how their body responds to their training.

Studies have shown that stretching, especially static stretching-the most commonly practice form of stretching where one holds a stretch for a period of time, will not prevent injury or prevent delayed onset muscle soreness, nor can stretching take away an injury. A lesson taught in the RRCA running coach's certification class is "you cannot stretch away an injury." Since most running injuries are due to overuse, in other words doing too much, too soon, too fast, too far, etc or due to a biomechanical issue, there is little benefit to stretching from this perspective.

This does not mean stretching is not a valid part of a runner's routine because tight and stiff muscles can contribute to an increase rate of injury. But also know that improper stretching, such as over stretching an already stretched out muscle, may lead to bigger issues than if you never stretched.

So what should you do? Never underestimate the power of a good warm-up, which is even more essential for runners since this time allows for a gradual increase in heart rate and a greater blood flow to the muscles, while warming up the connective tissues, that help us run. Ironically, many runners will skip this all important aspect to their race. I have seen many a runner stretching their hamstrings and quads just before the gun goes off, but fail to do one of the most pertinent parts of racing and that is to warm up. This is especially important if the race is a short distance, such as a 5K or 10K.

So to make a long story short there is no clear cut right or wrong therefore, the debate will continue as to whether one should or should not stretch. But know that if you find great benefit from stretching then by all means continue and if you are one, like me, who doesn't always end a workout with a good stretching routine, let go of the guilt.

Do you stretch prior to your workouts? Or do you wait until after your workouts to stretch?

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KOALA_BEAR 12/3/2019
I do a warm up of 5 to 10 minutes cycling or easy walking prior to a gym workout w/ various equipment, weight resistant exercises, & movements. I then di my stretching.
If race walking, I do a few gentle stretches for my legs then slowly warm up by walking a 1/4 mile, more if the weather is cold. Following my more intense walking I do a cool down lap or two then more leg stretches.
I also sometimes do yoga, tai chi, swim, & overall stretches when arising first thing in the morning & again at night before bed.
For me keeping on top of mineral supplementation & hot baths in epsom salts is critical for preventing muscles cramps & general soreness. Report
NASFKAB 7/8/2019
Thank you Report
I stretch after my workout as a nice way to wind down and relax. It just feels good. I also have seen improved flexibility and I feel like my muscles aren't as sore. Stretching is like a treat after an intense workout. Report
...i do not not know if i should stretch or not... Report
I stretch after I work out. Report
I try to lightly stretch before exercise and then stretch again afterwards. Report
I referee wrestling at age levels of high school & below I also coach (soccer & wrestling) and my 2 kids are both in sports of their choice all year long so......... WARMING UP FOR ANY EXCERCISE IS CRUCIAL FOR A POSITIVE OUTCOME regardless of competition or general health or even a pick up game take at least 60 seconds for yourself and stretch PREVENTION IS KEY if you give your body even a few warm up stretches you are far more likely to avoid damage of joints,tissue, and muscles.JUST DO IT! Report
I warm up before and stretch after. Stretching has a wealth of benefits including reducing soreness (something I considered proven from my personal experience), increasing flexibility, reducing muscle tightness, improving posture, and prepping your muscles for other activities, such as dancing or martial arts, so that the movements are executed more gracefully. Report
Warm up, Workout, and stretch, to lengthen contracted muscles, it lessens the ache. :)

Someone told me you can go all your life not exercising as long as your stretching out.... Report
You forgot to mention that stretching after exercising increases flexibility and just plain feels good! Report
I used to stretch both before and after my runs, but when I heard that stretching before was deemed not only unnecessary, but actually detrimental, I stopped stretching before. My own experience is that this has helped my running (by NOT stretching), although it's hard to quantify it. I just don't seem to have as much soreness during the actual run itself. Report
warm up first, stretch afterward Report
I'm learning that for me, doing a warm up run, followed by some dynamic stretches prior to the meat of my run works best for me. I have found that sometimes with static stretching prior to running I get a rubber band effect, especially with my calves. To understand the rubber band effect think about if you stretch a rubber band how it snaps back when you let it go. Now think about how that feels when it's your muscle. Ouch!

I enjoy some light static stretches afterward, followed by a warm shower. Report
I ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS do a nice 5-20 minute warm up, and then stretch, workout, and then stretch for a good 15+ minutes (post workout). I am a professional figure skater, so flexibility is not just for injury-prevention, but also part of performance. I will say though, I've pulled a muscle only ONCE in my entire career (I swear, once) when I was 12, and learned from it. I was in a spin trying to grab my skate blade and pull my leg up, when I pulled a hamstring and was off the ice for weeks. I never pulled a muscle again, but I did gain the ability to do the splits.

I think stretching comes down to a good warm-up and/or workout BEFORE stretching, and taking the time to stretch all the muscles- it takes TIME, and that's why many overlook it. Report
I think this is a really interesting debate, because it is a realistic one, even in fitness activities that aren't running.

I'm a cyclist so I bike to various locations to ride and I love to ride for 5 or 10 minutes and then stretch. This past summer, I planned a 15 mile ride around a nearby lake. I made one slow circuit and then stopped on the side of the paved path to stretch. A number of joggers and cyclists passed me, but one or two actually stopped to ask if I was okay.

Not that I don't appreciate a helping hand when I need one, but this is a good example of the debate, and probably even a good indication that not a lot of fitness folks stretch before or during their workout. Report
I warm up, stretch and then do my workout and stretch again. It especially helps with my legs so they don't get cramped. I feel I can go farther when walking or running if I do this. I read somewhere that muscles are like taffy, if you stretch them when they are cold they will break but you can stretch them further when they are warm. One of my goals is to have long lean muscles and I think stretching feels good so why wouldn't I stretch? It gives me something to look forward to at the end of my workouts. Report
I usually don't stretch at all. After reading the comments, I think I may add a yoga class to my routine to help prevent injuries. I usually don't have a lot of injuries or soreness either. Report
I always start easy with a 5+/- warm up and then stretch at the end of my workout. I used to skip stretching until a few months back when I had issues with my right leg. After seeing a physio for about two months I knew that I should always stretch after my workouts. Sometimes I even stretch before going to bed or when I get up if I'm not going to the gym. If I'm pressed for time I'd rather cut short my workout by 5minutes so that I can have time to stretch. Report
I find that a warmup combined with dynamic stretching is best for my body in some situations (cardio/plyo), but in others, it works better to warm up and lightly use the same motions I plan to use during the regular workout, and stretch afterwards (strength training). And, for a flexibility workout, I warm up first too ... Truly an individual thing; it's been interesting to see that studies are showing what I proved for myself long ago :) Report
I prefer a slow warm up to get my muscles going then stretching afterwards. I sometimes do a easy Yoga workout to warm up before going my 2 mi. Report
I take the Andre Agassi approach: no stretching before a workout. However, like most folks here, I do stretch after a workout. It seems to bring down my heartrate and relax me. Report
I usually always stretch after my workout! I also do stretch exercises at other times depending on what my body is telling me. Report
I love the "do what works for you" philosophy but it takes courage and trial and error to figure that out!

I've been running for 5 years now, currently run 25-30 miles/week. I never stretch before I go although I often stop after a mile or two to stretch my hammies and gastrocs if they feel a little tight. I never stretch when I get back, either - I'm too tired and sore usually. Instead, I schedule 3 one-hour yoga practices a week on non-running days and feel great, flexible and fluid afterwards.

I met a personal trainer 2 years ago who told me my system was dangerously flawed and I was going to be seriously injured because of it. I've been running for 4 years and have not missed more than 3 runs in a row due to injury in that time. Still, it took courage to fly in the face of that expert! Report
I have the "shin splints" so I have to stretch that area before walking or running. Most of my stretching happens after any and all workouts. Report
I warm up and then stretch. I also stretch during and after my workouts. My performance is so much better. Report
I have tried stretching and warming up every different way possible and I am still sore. Nothing seems to work for me....I just keep going...and I keep stretching. HOWEVER - the stretching routined learned for lower back pain does help. Report
I stretch after my workouts AND I try to take yoga classes regularly. I've found that increasing my flexibility has decreased my risk for injury. I also do something called self myo-fascial release. the first time I did it, it hurt like the Dickens ! However, my muscles felt great the next day. Using a foam roller really did make a huge difference. I try to use the roller once a week. I should do it more often.

I highly recommend self myo-fascial release for anyone who does intense exercise, runners in particular.

I warm up before I work out, cool down after my workout, and then do stretches. Report
I use to stretch before I completing my running or walking routine. Then I bought the 2 Sparkpeople DVD's and they have built in stretching after the routine so that is what I do now and just focus on the warm-up instead of stretches before my workout. Report
I stretch both before and after I run. Before, because it helps my muscles loosen up after being somewhat stiff in the morning. After, because I was told it helps your muscles set properly, look better, and feel better. Report
You are so right, Nancy, it is a personal thing and a lot of trial and error until you find out what works for you. In my teens I did athletics and was forever struggling with injuries, despite the fact my body was in far better condition then than it is now at 41. I have a weak knee and ankle, so I always warm up before a run. And before an interval/speed session I always do dynamic type stretches (knees up, jumps and squats, ankle turns), otherwise I know from experience that I run the risk of injury. I am also quite good about static stretches after a run, and I also do Pilates on my days off (i.e., without running). I really do believe this has kept me injury free. Report
A lesson I learned from my cat....... always stretch when you get up! Seriously, I stretch after exercising, but always warm up. Report
I stretch after I warm up and again at the end of my workout. Personally, I think that it's an important part of the session ... especially for those of us who are over 50. Report
I stretch after i exercise as i find it easier when the body is warm Report
if i'm at the gym i do a 5 minute brisk walk on the treadmill and then do some bouncing stretches, lunges, hip flexors, arms, etc. and then i start my serious workout. Afterward i do a lot of static stretches. I notice that if i don't stretch i'm super sore. Report
I like to stretch in the morning when I wake up, it helps me be awake. Im pretty bad at remembering to do it either before or after though :) Report
I stretch after my workout. Report
As a physical therapist and avid fitness gal, I say stretch when you are warm and blood is flowing. It definitely helps restore normal alignment. (that is why the runner with tight hamstrings runs better if he stretches). Mostly you are stretching fascia and it is crucial to breathe and hold the stretch for 30 secs to a minute - watch a clock or use a timer. I have helped many a person with hip pain, neck pain, etc by stretching them out. Right now I have elbow pain that is relieved by stretching and doing yoga. Many folks would have less aches and pains, especially as they age, if they stretch!!!! After weeks of my husband whining about his hip, he started doing a 15 minute morning yoga routine and shyly told me 'why yes, my hip IS better!'. Report
I do simple stretching along with my warm-up, then full stretches after my walk or work out. It makes me feel better afterwards. Report
I only stretch after my workout but I start my workout with a slow warm up. That's what works best for me. Report
I stretch after workout and right before bed because I have plantar fasciitis and stretching helps alleviate the pain in my feet. Report
I start out slow warming up, do whatever it is I have planned, then I try to always stretch after. It feels good to back out of the exercising with the stretching. Report
I do some simple stretching (arms, hamstrings) before my workout, and make sure to do a 2-5 minute warm up as well. I also never skip the cool down, and I like to stretch for about 10 minutes afterward. It feels like a reward for my muscles and allows me to savor the workout high a bit longer. I have definitely noticed I'm less sore when I stretch. Report
I warm up, do some very light stretches, workout and then do deeper stretches. For the first time in my life I don't get sore! Report
There seems to be a lot of debate about stretching. Is there any real benefit to stretching? Do I need to stretch before playing sports? The New York Times just published an article called “ How Necessary is Stretching” which pointed out that runners who had tight hamstrings seemed to run easier (better running economy) and perform better.

It seems you contradict yourself. You say studies show injuries can't be prevented with stretching, but later you say "tight and stiff muscles can contribute to an increased rate of injury," implying that they need to be stretched. hmmm... I will still stretch after workouts, but only because it leaves my body feeling better. I have lost so much flexibility, esp. in my shoulders, since I stopped doing yoga regularly 20 years ago. No time like the present. Report
well i definitely need to stretch after more than before Report
I do the same type of warm up as you but mostly walking, no stretching before the run and most of the times I stretch afterwards but not every time. Report
I stretch after my workouts when my muscles are nice and warm:) Report