Coach Mike Mead

September 2009

Less Stress, Less Stretch

During the past few years, I’ve been reading more and more about the negative effects of stretching for runners. I’ve always considered stretching one of those details that a runner cannot overlook if he/she wants to stay healthy and flexible. Flexibility is important in running efficiency and the less flexible one is, the more likely you will be tighter and risk injury.

I must confess that while I preach about stretching, I’ve never spent the amount of time stretching that is recommended or necessary. My major fault is that my limited time after my runs cut in to the details like stretching. When I’m “in season” with my teams, I do not have a lot of time after a run to attend to stretching since I have things to do and people to see!

Yeah, I know it is an excuse and I could “make it so,” but part of me doesn’t fully believe in spending a great deal of time stretching every muscle in my body. And lately I’ve read that some “running experts” lay claim that stretching is not as important as we might think!

In the past four years, I’ve read a few articles that stretching before running is not advisable. It is recommended to do 5-10 minutes of jogging before stretching. I’m not even sure that stretching before runs is necessary. The logic behind not stretching before you run is your muscles are cold and stretching risks injury. Think of your muscles like a rubber band that is placed in a freezer. Take the rubber band out of the freezer and give it a quick stretch. There’s a good chance the rubber band will snap. The article I read said there was a higher incident of injuries by those who stretched before running as compared to those who did little or no stretching. The article recommended that dynamic warm-up was preferred over static stretching.

It makes sense to me. But I have a slightly different view on the whole stretching thing. I’m an old guy now. I’ve been running for a bunch of years now -- over 35 years. In my younger days I’d get up and could be out the door in less than 10 minutes to begin a run. These days, I usually spend a half hour before I get out the door. Despite taking longer to get going in the morning, I still take off on my run once I’m out the door just like I did during my prime years of running.

My thinking as to why I do not need to stretch is quite simple – body in motion. That is, I run so regularly, that my main running muscles get their stretching from my runs. My belief is simple, “use it or lose it.”

Most folks I know who are tight or sore are this way because they don’t regularly use the parts that are tight or sore. It is more because of underuse. I’ve observed that those who run inconsistently tend to need more stretching because they are not running daily. Think about it! How many folks you know who talk and talk and talk, yet they never complain their mouth is sore or tight from all the gum-flapping. Maybe I’m on to something!

When runners get in good shape, we all tend to have a bounce in our step. However, stretching too much removes that “bounce” in our stride, or at least it does for me. If a runner is of sound mechanics and trains consistently – almost daily – stretching more than 10 minutes after a run just may be counter-productive. Perhaps a whirlpool or a swim is better after a run than stretching.

So, if you have experienced more injuries from running than you thought you should have and were stretching a lot before and after your workouts, I suggest some minor changes. Start your future runs with 5-10 minutes of walking or easy jogging then go right into your run. When you have completed your workout, spend 5-10 minutes of stretching the important running muscles.

Give this approach a few weeks time and see if you notice a difference. If you still feel the need to stretch before your runs, be sure you do dynamic stretching, but after you have done some walking or jogging first.