We all have seen, or have been, runners bending over to touch their toes or pull their foot back to stretch before a race. Therefore, it may surprise you that some research does not support static stretching prior to running, but at the same time others indicate it has no detrimental effects on performance.
However, research is unclear. These are a slew of small studies reporting dynamic stretching is best prior to running, especially for short distances, while others report static stretching has no detrimental effects on distance running economy or performance.
What does research tell us?
There is definitely conflicting information regarding dynamic stretching versus static stretching prior to running.
Scientifically, static stretching activates a protective neuromuscular reflex that tries to prevent muscles from being overstretched. After static stretching, muscles are unable to contract as forcefully and efficiently because they become inhibited by the brain. Efficiency actually requires an amount of stiffness in the leg when the foot makes contact with the ground for running in order to absorb the ground reaction forces and spring the body forward.
Dynamic stretching is performed quickly (2-3 seconds) and not held for a long duration of time, like with static stretching (15-60 seconds). Studies1 have found that a dynamic stretching warm-up can lead to improved performance by prolonging the time to exhaustion and it was able to be held over a longer duration. The dynamic warm-up increases the stretch-shortening cycle, especially for fast stretch-shortening cycle performances, due to the quick movements that are performed with the specific warm-up2.
A small study indicates the acute effects of static stretching prior to a long distance run, 60 minutes, has no effect on calorie expenditure, running economy, or endurance performance in women3. However, some of these studies look at sub-maximal performance using a very small subject group, in which not all motor units within a muscle are recruited4.
What is my take on all of this?
As you read, there is conflicting information when looking at research. However, the research contains very small numbers and therefore it is difficult to generalize the results to the general running population.
Dynamic stretching includes quick movements like skips, strides, high knees, butt kicks, grapevine, and the like. These provide a means to warm-up the heart and muscles prior to the workout or race. In addition, a dynamic warm-up provides the means to recruit all motor units and still maintain sufficient stiffness to enhance ones performance and allow the body to absorb the forces.
Static stretching for runners includes holding a stretch for at least 30 seconds to decrease muscle tightness and tension. These usually focus on the calf muscles, hamstring, quadriceps, hip flexors, and glutes in runners. Static stretching may assist with recovery and make your legs feel better following a run.
Stretching can be beneficial in protecting your body from injury. That said, it is important that you pay attention to any unusual aches and pains you experience after running. If this occurs, make sure to schedule a complimentary injury screening at your nearest Athletico location before the pain gets worse.
The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1Yamaguchi T, Takizawa K, and Shibata K. Acute effect of dynamic stretching on endurance running performance in well-trained male runners. J Strength Cond Res; 2015 (April 29).
2Andrade C, Henriquez-Olquin C, Beltran AR, Ramirez MA, Labarca C, Cornejo M, Alvarez C, and Ramirez-Campillo R. Effects of general, specific and combined warm-up on explosive muscular performance. Biology Sport; 2015 June: 32(2): 123-128.
3Mojock CD, Kim JS, Eccles DW, and Panton LB. The effects of static stretching on running economy and endurance performance in female distance runners during treadmill running. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; 2011 August; 25(8): 2170-2176.
4 Hayes PR and Walker A. Pre-exercise stretching does not impact upon running economy. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2007 November; 21(4): 1227-1232.