Stretching, on the whole, is great.
There’s a lot to be said about a good morning yoga flow, or a post run stretch to ease sore and tired muscles.
And it doesn’t just feel good, but according to research, stretching properly can benefit runners by improving balance and the range of motion in their joints– both essential pillars of good running.
But did you know that there are certain harmful stretching exercises that can actually hinder your running game, rather than help to improve it?
In this article, we are going to unpack 5 main ways that your stretching routine may be sabotaging your running game with 5 harmful stretching exercises, and what you can do instead of them.
1. Static stretches before a run
You know the ones.
As in , sit down and reach as faaaar as you can to touch your toes. Or stand on one leg and pull the heel of the other all the way to your glute, pulling your quad tight and as far as it can go.
But as it turns out, these sorts of stretches should be reserved for after your runs, after your muscles have had the chance to get nice and limbered up.
In fact, according to a study published in European Journal of Applied Physiology, performing static stretches before you head out for a run actually decreases your running economy by a long shot.
That is, it will demand more physical effort of you to run after performing static stretches- that is compared even to having done no stretching at all!
The research suggests that when not stretched statically, your hip and upper-leg muscles remain taut, meaning that they can ‘snap back’ easily after each running stride.
After performing static stretches, those leg and hip muscles lack the same springiness, therefore you’ll end up putting in more effort and feeling tired much earlier on in your run.
Do this instead:
Instead of starting out with static stretches before your run, try doing a dynamic stretching routine in its place.
Dynamic stretches involve movement and they don’t require you to hold a position for long periods of time. So, you’ll be moving around a lot, which will get your heart rate up as well as your muscles nice and warmed!
We are talking; leg swings, lunges, squats, calf raises, running drills….
Check out this article for a full lowdown on the ideal pre-run dynamic stretching routine:
2. Static stretching to prevent muscle running injuries
You may have been taught that in order to prevent running injuries you need to be doing lots of static stretching.
Static stretching alone does not prevent muscle injuries!
Static stretching is at the receiving end of a lot of grief in this article, but it’s not personal, it is science!
According to a study published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, performing static stretches before a run does nothing to lower the risk of muscle pulls or similar running injuries.
This theory is backed by another study published in the National Library of Medicine that indicates that although static stretches are good for increasing the range of motion in your joints, there is nothing to suggest that they safeguard your muscles from injury.
Related: Here Are The 6 Worst Things You Can Do Before A Run
Do this instead:
Many factors can come into play that lead to a runner getting injured.
But the most effective way to keep running injuries at bay is to get your running form right.
Having poor running form is often the root cause behind so many common running injuries, so it is so important to get it sorted out.
Unsure of how to go about this?
Check out this article on proper running form: Proper Running Form – 8 Tips To Make It Effortless
3. Stretching before weight training
As far as harmful stretching exercises go, stretching before a weight training session is a big no-no.
When you perform static stretches, your muscle tendons elongate as they stretch.
Because of this, if you static stretch before a weight training session, you are putting your muscles at risk of injury.
Static stretching may also have a negative effect on the stability of your joints, meaning that you are leaving them open to injury once you make them bear weight.
This is all supported by the findings of this study that was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Their claim is that there is no clear benefit to static stretching before weight training, and if anything, it only has its draw backs.
Do this instead:
It is important to warm up before weight training, but static stretching just isn’t the way.
Instead, begin your strength session with some light cardio. That can look like; hopping on the rowing machine, the elliptical, the stationary bike or the treadmill.
Emphasis on light.
You want your body to warm up gradually.
After some light cardio, warm up the part of your body that you are focusing on with some bodyweight training targeting that area.
So, if it’s leg day at the gym, perform some weight-free lunges and squats before you start loading on the weight.
Related: The 10 Best Glute Stretches For Runners
4. ‘Ballistic’ stretching
What is ballistic stretching?
You may be familiar with this type of stretching if you ever did gymnastics when you were younger.
Ballistic stretching is a very intense stretching method were you get into a classic stretching position (e.g. a forward fold) and bounce deeper into the stretch so that at you stretch your muscles and joints beyond their natural range of motion.
And, because it stretches you beyond your natural range of motion, it is one of the most harmful stretching exercises.
This study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that this type of ballistic stretching actually increases your risk of injury.
Because of these risks, sporting bodies such as the American College of Sports Medicine actually don’t recommend performing these types of stretches. At all.
Do this instead:
Just don’t do it!
Runners don’t need to be super flexible to perform at their best.
Instead, what runners need is strength and stability throughout their joint’s entire range of motion.
Combining both mobility, stability work, and strength training is one of the most effective ways to achieve this control.
The internet is a great resource! There are some amazing follow along strength and mobility workouts on YouTube that can be very effective for runners.
Check out this video on strength training with an emphasis on stability and getting a full range of motion through the exercises:
5. Stretching to prevent muscle soreness
It may seem counterintuitive, but stretching actually does nothing to prevent muscle soreness.
In fact, you could be wasting your time with a pre or post run stretch if your aim is to reduce muscle soreness or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
According to a study published in the BMJ, stretching before or after exercise had no statistically significant effect on reducing muscle soreness. Who’d have thought?!
Do this instead:
Don’t worry! There are ways to reduce muscle soreness that aren’t stretching!
Here is a list of a few of them:
1. Warm up properly for your run.
Think dynamic stretching and starting out with a slow jog to get those muscles nice and warm.
It’s a good idea to have a well thought out standard warm up routine that you can keep coming back to. Keeping it easy is key to doing it every time.
2. Foam roll.
This is a very effective way of decreasing your risk of DOMS.
Foam rolling helps you to work on those tight spots, and it is a well backed way of keeping your muscles as fresh as possible.
3. Do some active recovery.
This is a great way of providing blood flow to your worn out muscles, helping them to recover quickly.
You should perform active recovery within 24 hours of a hard session to reap the benefits of doing it.
Active recovery can look like a light, slow, jog, an easy yoga session, or an easy swim.
4. Have a good night’s sleep.
Its no secret that your body is hard at work when you’re asleep. It’s when your well worked muscles get repaired and rebuilt.
So don’t skimp on sleep after a hard training run if you want to reap its muscle mending properties!
The best post run routine
Ok, so everything you thought you knew about stretching has gone out the window!
It can be hard to pick up new habits and even harder to shift old ones.
Luckily, we have developed a complete guide to post run recovery.
Check it out: The Best Post-Run Routine: Do These 9 Things After Every Run
the best pre run routine
And what about your old pre run stretch? You’ll have to rethink that too…
We have also got you covered!
Check it out: How To Warm Up For Runners: Warm Up Exercises Before Running
Check it out: What To Eat Before Running In The Morning