There are certain rituals or habits that we all do before a run. Charge our phones, queue our playlists and put on these running sneakers. But while we are motivated enough to get out and get that run done, we are usually very lazy when it comes to stretching. Then there are those post-run rituals like drinking that chocolate milk and hitting the showers. But again, stretching isn’t part of it. Stretching is important and should be part of our running routines. But are we supposed to stretch before or after a run anyway?
Why Stretch At All?
We all know we should stretch, but many might not know why. Stretching increase the range of motion as well as flexibility. This is important because it increases mobility in the joints and muscles. In turn, the runner is less at risk for an injury when putting those muscles to work.
The muscles work best when they are warmed up. Think of stretching as its warm up. Notice the difference in how stiff and slow the body feels when starting a run without stretching, loosening the joins and getting the blood pumping. Then stretch and see the difference in how loose and ready the body feels to work.
Stretching also strengthens the hip flexors, hamstrings, and quadriceps, which is why yoga is a great idea for runners. Strengthening these muscles further reduces the risk of injury while building up muscle strength to be able to perform better.
It also relieves stress, tension and reduces inflammation which can then cause pain or soreness.
Before Or After?
Even though we usually skip it, many believe that stretching is to be done before the run. But this actually isn’t the case.
It’s better to stretch after a run.
The truth is that the muscles are tight since they are not yet warmed up. And reaching down to touch your toes or throwing your foot back to your glutes with a bent knee to stretch the hamstring isn’t really getting the muscle awake just yet.
This means the runner is more at risk to pull a muscle or cause tissue damage when stretching before a run. It can also slow a runner down since the body doesn’t tell the muscles the contact as quickly.
It’s better to stretch after the run to increase the range of motion, and to loosen up those tight hip flexors or sore IT band post run. Stretching post-run increases flexibility and prevents pain. It helps to eliminate lactic acid and increase circulation. It also helps to reduce soreness.
Before The Run Stretches
As mentioned before, the body runs best on warm muscles. So the best way to stretch before a run is with a dynamic warm-up. This consist of “warming” the muscles up by moving around and getting the blood flowing. Think lunges, leg swings, squats, butt kick, high knees, and jumping jacks. Do this for about 10 minutes.
After a dynamic warm-up, do a few static stretches before the run. Static stretches mean the body is still and just that muscle group is being stretched. For example, stand with your legs hip-width apart and bend over to touch your toes. Static stretches should be held for 15 to 60 seconds.
Do not bounce while stretching. Bouncing while in a stretch can cause muscle fiber tears. Just focus on the reach and breathe. Inhale and exhale. Then after a few seconds, inhale deeply and reach further with the exhale for that deeper stretch. Stretching also should not be painful. There should just be a slight discomfort. Don’t force the body to go too far.
After The Run Stretches
It is best to stretch after the run. But what kinds of stretches to do?
To get the heart rate down, a cool down period is always recommended post run. Gently jog or walk for a few minutes. Then make it a habit to stretch.
Focus on these dynamic stretches instead of static. This includes lunges and dig down deep into it. Stretch the hip flexors, hamstrings, and thighs.
Another good stretch is the IT band stretch. Start upright and cross the right leg behind the left. Lean to the left and push the right hip out with feet firmly on the ground. Then switch and do the other side.
More and more studies suggest that stretching isn’t a major necessity either before or after. This is especially is stretches are done incorrectly and can cause injury. The best way to know what is right for the runner is to assess if they have any tight muscles or soreness before or after a run and focus on these muscle groups.
1. This Is Your Body When You Don’t Stretch, Fara Rosenzweig,
2. Why You Should Stretch After Your Run And Not Before, Katharine Lackey, June 19, 2017, Competitor Running
3. Should I Stretch Before or After Running?, and Runner’s World
4. The Importance of Stretching Before Running, , Sports Rec
5. Should You Stretch Before Or After Running?, Jan. 25, 2017, World’s Marathons