Is Stretching Good For Runners?
There is a study by Baxter et al (2017) that reviewed all the research on stretching on the performance and injury risk in runners.
I have summerized their paper in this video:
Stretching and Flexibility:
Stretching can increase flexibility, but it has to be a strict programme of long regular stretching over a period of 6 weeks or more. Also, stretching has not be shown to be any superior to strength training in increasing ROM and flexibility (Alphonso et al 2021)
Elite runners are less flexible: stiff muscle give you elastic energy (like an elastic band) so your muscles are more efficient and powerful if they are stiff. This can improve your running economy. Having reduced flexibility has not been shown to increase the risk of injury, exept in extreme cases.
It has also been shown that stretching does not decrease the sensation and time of DOMS following a hard workout.
Stretching and Performance:
There is conflicting evidence on whether stretching before a run/race can improve performance. Some studies say stretching can reduce the elasticity of the muscles meaning it reduces performance. Some studies say it can help with the recruitment of muscles. However the overall message is that stretching doesn’t really make much different, so you will be better off spending your warm up with a low intensity jog and then a few drills and strides to raise your HR.
So can having a long term stretching programme increase your performance? The short answer is no. Even if you do manage to increase your flexibility, this will not have any effect on your running economy.
Stretching and Injury:
But, can long term stretching decrease the risk of injury in running? There has been a small bit of evidence that shows that stretching can decrease the chance of injury in explosive sports such as sprinting, however this does not translate across to long distance running. There is currently no evidence to suggest that stretching can reduce the risk of overuse injuries in endurance sports.
So the current research shows us that stretching has little effect on running performance, injury risk and reducing the sensation of DOMS
However, research is based on large population groups, and may not accurately represent everyone. I know from experience that when I stretch after a heavy workout it does provide some short term relief of tiredness and DOMS. I also know that when I stretch my hips throughout the week, those cold early morning runs do feel a little less stiff and uncomfortable.
Therefore, I will still include some of my favourite stretching in my training routine, but I wont be spending hours trying to fit it in. If you are very tight then stretching might be a good idea for you. If you already have good ROM, then you should save your time and do some strength exercises instead.
Sport and Exercise Health Science BSc