The “should you stretch before or after a run” debate has gone on for many, many years. In fact, “expert” recommendations have continued to change regarding the value of stretching and when it should be done. While it is agreed that stretching is an important component of fitness, the bottom line is that conflicting evidence has led to experts’ inability to agree on an opinion. Nevertheless, it has been proven that stretching plays an important role in reducing the likelihood of injury, improving physical performance, and preventing future soreness post exercise.
The following are some of the most commonly recommended stretches to perform to avoid muscle injury during a run:
- Calf Stretch
- “The Flamingo”: grab your foot with your hand to pull one leg back in a flamingo position, stretches the quadriceps
- Leg Pendulum: swing your leg back and forth in front of you in a swinging position
While these stretches will help to loosen up the muscles prior to a run, experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believe that warming up, not stretching, is what plays an important role in injury prevention. When muscles have the opportunity to “prepare” for an upcoming physical activity they are able to loosen up and blood flow is increased. During this time runners are able to “warn” their body that exercise is about to take place.
In general, it is recommended to stretch both before and after exercise. When done properly, stretching can increase flexibility and thus an athlete’s range of motion. In doing so, the muscles are able to warm up and are less likely to suffer injury during the run. All in all, it is important to recognize the difference between “stretching” and “warming up”. Warming up prior to running is very important to avoiding injury. Stretches that warm up the body are preferable as they will prepare your muscles for the pending challenge.