One of the most common misconceptions among new runners is that you need to stretch before running. But there are several reasons why you should skip static stretches before you head out on a run. Instead, dynamic warmups are much more effective at preparing you for safe, happy runs.
Although it's widely believed that if you stretch before running, you can prevent running-related injuries by promoting flexibility, the opposite is actually true. The idea behind this theory is that loosening up with static stretches before a run will help you run faster and prevent muscle strain. In fact, static stretching can lead to negative effects — not only decreasing performance but also increasing your risk of injury.
Another common misconception is that flexibility is a necessary trait for endurance athletes. The truth is flexibility helps you achieve a high range of motion at your joints, allowing you to touch your toes or do a split. Unless you're running some sort of wacky race, flexibility isn't relevant for increasing running performance. Plus, runners actually need to be able to retain some level of muscle tension to maintain efficient form and keep their legs more spring-like. Being too flexible can diminish that spring effect and result in slower runs.
If static stretches aren't recommended as a running warmup, where should you start?
Opt for a dynamic warmup.
Newer runners would benefit more by focusing on mobility rather than flexibility. Being able to use strength to move through a normal range of motion is what gives you the power to run lightly and gracefully, as well as sprint, clear hurdles, and navigate tougher terrain like rocky trails. This is where a dynamic warmup comes into play. By implementing moves like lunges, skips, and leg swings, you can help your body feel looser and more responsive from the start, not only making you more prepared physically but also mentally.
Other movements that can help with mobility include strides, sprints, and other quick acceleration workouts, as well as strength workouts such as weightlifting, form drills, and hill workouts. Getting your body used to a wide range of movements is how you train it to respond positively and build movement competency — your ability to move safely and successfully while performing a physical activity.
What about stretching after a run?
This isn't to say that stretching has no place in your running routine. Static stretching can be very helpful after your run to complement your cool-down routine and help bring your body to a more relaxed state. And if you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk when you're not running, stretching after runs can help to lengthen your hip flexors and ease tension and stiffness.
The bottom line: While static stretching can have a place in your general routine, warming up with dynamic movements before running is more beneficial when it comes to performance and preventing injury. Check out some recommended dynamic warmups for beginners to get started today.
Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.