You jump out of bed, throw on shorts and a shirt, lace up your running shoes and head for the front door. You’re ready to hit the trails and log some miles. But should you stretch first?
You’ve probably heard that it’s good to stretch before any physical activity to help prevent injury, and that can be true, but there has been debate on whether to stretch before running.
According to a 2014 study, static stretching—stretching where you’re holding a single non-moving position from 10 to 20 seconds—can actually have a negative effect on your strength and power. This matters most for sprinters, but other studies have found that stretching pre-run can also hinder running economy for distance runners, and there’s no concrete evidence that it can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.
“It’s helpful to realize that the old adage, ‘never stretch a cold muscle’ is true,” explains Jason Fitzgerald, USA Track and Field certified run coach, and founder and head coach of Strength Running. “And because that’s true, it means you should never engage in static stretching before a run. Muscles are not pliable and won’t respond well to lengthening if they’re cold.” Translation: You could actually end up doing more harm than good.
However, that doesn’t mean you should totally write off a pre-trail stretch. While there aren’t many advantages you can get from static stretching, instead, swap them out for a dynamic warm-up. “The most effective warm-up is a series of dynamic flexibility exercises, also known as dynamic stretching,” says Fitzgerald.
And it’s beneficial for many reasons—the main one being that it will literally warm you up. “This type of routine increases your heart rate, respiration, perspiration and metabolic pathways that will prime you to run. It will also improve your range of motion, lubricate the joints and open up small capillaries in the extremities to promote more blood flow—all the great things a proper warm-up should do.”
This holds true even if you’re running a short distance. Fitzgerald explains that it’s always beneficial, despite mileage, to warm up. “It will help you feel better, perform better and reduce your injury risk,” he says.
A dynamic warm-up can be made up of different elements including running drills, light strength exercises and mobility work.
We asked Fitzgerald for an example and he suggested the Mattock Dynamic warm-up routine, which includes squats, walking lunges, walking leg swings, high knee skips and more. Try it before your next run.
“Runners are not gymnasts,” says Fitzgerald. “We don’t need to be super loose and flexible; we actually need stiffness—high isometric strength or not ‘being tight’—to promote economical form and faster race times.”
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