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Trail Tips

Ask the Coach: To Stretch or Not To Stretch

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Generally I don’t stretch before a run, without any adverse affects. But I’m wondering whether you’d recommend stretching and, if so, how much?    

Matthew Parsons, Lander, WY

Static stretching has long been recommended for warming up muscles before a run or race. Research over the past few years, though, has simply proven otherwise. Pre-race or -run stretching actually inhibits the amount of force your muscles can produce. Stretching fatigues the muscles, limiting your running performance.

Ben Greenfield of Spokane, Washington, of BenGreenfieldFitness.com, explains, “In most athletic movements, force is produced not just from the muscle contracting, but also from a release of elastic energy that is stored in the muscle’s tendon.” When a runner’s foot strikes the ground, the knee and ankle bend to absorb impact. The Achilles tendon stores that energy and returns it with a powerful push off.

So when you run after stretching your calf muscle—and as a corollary, your Achilles tendon—you diminish the tendon’s ability to return energy. Greenfield continues, “The tighter your tendons are, the more explosively they can release that stored energy.”

Of course, there are benefits to stretching sore muscles, and working on range of motion, but Greenfield cautions, “Don’t confuse stiffness with the inability to move through a range of motion.” The best new advice on stretching before runs—don’t waste your time.