Should you stretch immediately before or after a run? No. Contrary to most beliefs, research suggests that an acute phase of stretching (before or after exercise) does not show any benefits and indicates a possible decrease in performance and increase risk of injury.
Surely that can’t be right??
Muscular stiffness has been considered to cause injury and inhibit performance. However, it appears to be desirable for long-distance runners as stiff muscles around the hip, knee and ankle joints can increase stability and force production during the gait cycle, reducing the required muscle activation to maintain stability. More force production with less energy output = better running economy, better results.
Following this, stretching before a run has been shown to recruit more motor units (coordinate muscle contractions) in a muscle to perform the same work. More motor units = more oxygen consumption + energy expenditure. “No studies were able to suggest that stretching immediately before an endurance running event could improve running economy.” (Shrier, I. 2004).
Don’t be completely put off of stretching. Regular stretching is shown to be beneficial in other sporting disciplines, can improve your flexibility and is often used as part of a rehabilitation programme. Furthermore, stretching regularly (not before or straight after training) is suggested to have no negative impact on your running economy.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
Will stretching help your DOMS? I’m sure everyone has experienced the inability to get off the toilet seat or make their way downstairs for the following days after a hard session running or training legs. This is DOMS. Commonly experienced 24-48 hours after exercise and the leading cause of reduced performance. Depending on the state of the muscle, stretching can actually prolong soreness/injury.
I always see people stretching in between sets or straight after a heavy session. This will not benefit you what so ever and can decrease power and increase risk of injury. There is substantial evidence to show that stretching does not reduce DOMS or improve performance. Instead of stretching, try hot/cold therapy which is shown to aid recovery.
Josh Kelsall (M.Ost)