Everyone seems to have the perfect pre-run routine – even though everyone you talk to will have a different approach, and will be happy to tell you why theirs is the best.

Injured people tend to beat themselves up for not stretching enough and blame the lack of stretching as the cause of their injury. However, this is rarely the case and is more an oversimplification of the issue.

When I say stretching, what I’m talking about is your classic static stretching where you hold a stretch for a period of time. People believe that static stretching can prevent injury, reduce muscle soreness and make us faster and stronger, but a study done in the year 2000 showed that stretching before exercise does not help reduce the risk of injury. To be fair, it’s nearly 20 years old, but there hasn’t been that much done on the topic since then – possibly because the results were so conclusive that nobody has bothered to do it all again!

In sports that require power and strength like weight lifting and sprinting, stretching prior to training or competition has been shown to actually reduce performances if held for longer than 60 seconds.

This doesn’t mean that we can get rid of all our pre workout mobility routine, it just means that stretching before we exercise isn’t a good use of our time when we are already injury-free.

Research certainly has its limitations and the articles I looked at only used injury-free participants, which isn’t the typical person I see. So, while stretching before we exercise won’t prevent injuries, it may help recovering from them and could also improve the range of motion of a muscle. It’s just best not to do it before exercise if everything is moving well.

Take-home message:

  • A warm up is good but shouldn’t involve static stretching; instead, use some movement-based stretching (dynamic stretching).
  • If something feels tight relative to the other side, improving this with whatever method (stretching, Pilates, massage) works for you is fine, just do it afterwards.
  • Don’t stretch for the sake of stretching; have a reason as to why you are trying to make that muscle move more.

If you want to learn more about the risks and rewards of stretching, shoot me an email any time: ryan@sportslab.net.nz

Ryan Smith is a Sports Lab physiotherapist who loves to geek out about running techniques with anyone who will listen. Find him at the Grafton lab to start a conversation!