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FAQ Do I stretch before a run?

The burning question.

To stretch or not to stretch before a run…that is the question?

stretch before a run lady stretching

A patient at Physio Squared (let’s call him Anonymous Dave) recently posed the following challenge…

“Being a relative inexperienced runner of 2 years pounding the roads, I’ve observed the debates about whether you should stretch before or after a run … and quite frankly have become really confused with all the reasons for and against stretching. My default became ….. No stretching before and afterwards, until a tight hamstring appeared. It then felt appropriate that I stretch the hammy before and after a run and quite frankly this appeared to be working, until after a few weeks during one run, disaster struck and the tight hammy became something a lot worse… a grade 1 tear! So now I’m really confused as to whether the stretching was a contributing factor to the tear? Perhaps the stretching was helpful and the tear was unrelated? So what’s my physio’s take on stretching for runners?!”

The controversy.

Anonymous Dave is right… there is so much controversy around the topic of stretching! Even as a physio that reads the research, results are conflicting and inconclusive. I have found that the best gems of information around this topic in particular are from blogs, professional commentaries and clinical observation, rather than empirical data.

I recently read a commentary from Dr William Roberts, a sports doctor that regularly gives recommendations on Runner’s World. I have included some of his feedback below, as it clearly explains the most recent thinking around stretching for runners. I have also included some of my own thinking from readings and experiences of working on runners over the years.

The flexibility issue.

Flexibility refers to the maximum joint range of motion that can be achieved without injury to the joint support tissues. Flexibility is mostly genetic. You are born flexible or tight with a spectrum of flexibility in between. Stretching is the process of trying to lengthen muscle and soft tissue to increase flexibility. What is important for athletes is to have the functional range of motion needed to perform an activity, so functional range is more important that flexibility.

stretch before a run running man

What do you want to achieve?

Running only requires that you can move your legs in a moderate compass of functional range. Therefore if you can run comfortably and without ‘feeling tight’, there is no need to stretch. Running performance, in particular, is dependent on a certain amount of ‘recoil’ or bounce in the muscles in order to propel you forwards. As a muscle gets longer, it loses it’s ‘recoil ability’ inside of the functional range. If you wanted to do the splits or get into your yoga lizard lunge, it would be a different story! Therefore the necessity to stretch very much depends on what you are intending to do.

The opposition.

The thinking around stretching has changed radically over the years and become an issue of much ‘hurrah’. The more recent research suggests that stretching does not prevent injury or improve performance in running. However, warm up activities do prevent injury and improve performance, so time is best spent warming up the muscles rather than stretching before activity. Some studies suggest that stretching before activity may actually decrease power, force output, jump performance and speed. This because of the ‘drag’ on recoil ability.

The new line of thinking recommends that dynamic stretch activities, utilising the muscles to be challenged in your work out, will improve your performance, reduce the likelihood of injury, and give you the most benefit for your time. Another measure that is commended in injury prevention research is stability- the ability to maintain position and control to the best mechanical advantage. Pelvic stability is particularly important for runners, creating a stable base from which the legs can move and generate power. Good glute strength is a runner’s best friend! Flexibility beyond the range needed to perform an activity moves you away from stability and can lead to injury, so there is little reason to be over stretched and loose.

stretch before a run lonesome stretcher

The way forward.

Why do people spend so much time stretching? Most likely it’s a habitual practice from an old line of thinking… memories come to mind of standing in a circle before netball games at school stretching whilst ‘getting our heads in the game’. The newer data does not support stretching and athletes can better spend that precious time in warm up or strength training to reduce injury.

For running, the beginning minutes of your workout can be utilised in warm up and the closing minutes in cool down. Dynamic stretching is the practice of moving the major muscle groups through their available functional range over a number of repetitions. No static holds, just a continuous movement back and forth through the range. This ‘glides’ the sarcomeres (the smallest functional unit of a muscle) from their longest to their shortest position, without over-stretching them. It also shunts extra circulation to the muscle fibers and warms up the tissue in preparation for ‘work’ and aids muscle recovery in its aftermath.

For an example of dynamic stretching, click HERE.

So, what’s the bottom line?

If a muscle is short and tight, to a point that it is limiting your running ability, then it needs to be lengthened. This is experienced as a ‘tightness’ or tendency to modify your running pattern in order to compensate for the lack of range e.g. a shorter stride length for a tight hip flexor, bent-knee running for a short hammy. The guilty muscle would benefit from being stretched statically when it is warm, ideally after a run or work-out. Most people battle with the recommended 30sec x 3 approach, as stretching the same muscle three times can feel like over-kill. Some research shows that a stretch of 40sec or more is better suited to fiber length changes. In practice, I find that people are happier with 40sec x2 and the results are no different.

If there are points of tension (aka trigger points) in the muscle that are not responding to a static stretch, using a roller can target these areas by providing a localised stretch to the trigger point, rather than overstretching the surrounding, more extensible tissue. Trigger points can be palpated as bands in the muscle that feel tender, like you are pushing on a bruise.

In practice, I have found that running niggles are most often caused by strength issues rather than short muscles. The muscles that are most habitually short are the hip flexors and the hamstrings. The muscles that are most habitually weak are the glutes, quadriceps and calves. Tendon issues are most likely caused by weakness and poor biomechanics, rather than tightness.

Two helpful stretches

1.The hip flexors (front of pelvis/hip) can be targeted by a standing or kneeling lunge stretch. Facing forwards, open your feet up wide (front and back) along 2 parallel train tracks. Lunge deeply onto the front leg (Yoga high lunge). This can also be done with the back knee on the ground (Yoga low lunge). This will stretch the hip flexor on the leg that is behind. Tucking your tail under strongly (Michael Jackson funky pants) can create a stronger pull at the front of the hip/upper thigh.

stretch before a run lunge stretch

2. The hamstrings/hammies (back of thigh) can be targeted by placing your straight leg onto a bench/curb or even just digging your heel into the ground in front of you. Keep your back straight and hinge like a jack-knife at the hip. You can stretch the different fibers by turning your torso from side to side, like you are showing off your gold medal to your neighbours. This is particularly useful for ‘getting your head in the game’ before a big race J


Well, I hope this answers the nagging question of whether to stretch or not to stretch. This is but a glimpse of well-tested thoughts and recommendations. The proof is in the pudding, do what works for you! Remember that pain is a good policeman. Consistent pain when you are running indicates that something is taking serious strain and needs your attention. Come and see us and we will help you out.


Although this advice and information is based on sound knowledge, you follow it at your own risk. We cannot take any responsibility for injuries or health conditions that may arise after following this advice.

This answer is generalised and cannot replace the individual advice provided after a medical assessment by your local healthcare professional who understands your specific history and condition.

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