Does stretching before, after or at all affect you in the "long run?"
Have you been advised to stretch before or after your run, but aren’t quite sure what the difference is? Experts surprisingly recommend neither, however it has been suggested that the type of stretching performed may ultimately lead to changes in your running economy.
As runners, I’m sure we’ve all seen the stereotypical image of a fellow runner with one foot on the curb, reaching their fingers down towards their toes and you seemingly feel the urge to do the same. However do you really know what the stretch is effective, or if in fact it is going to help your productivity? The key points to stretching lies in the types of stretching performed. Research has demonstrated that static stretching i.e. the stretch held in position in order to lengthen the muscles and tendons, generally decreases both power output and strength. An example could include reaching down towards the toes and holding the position, ultimately disengaging the muscle before having them to activate immediately after. Static stretching has received mixed reviews especially from runners, as they feel their energy expenditure exceeds that of the same pace of run performed without stretching.
Research conducted in Brazil indicated that statically stretching before running had no effect on running economy, however participants felt as if they were working harder to complete their route than those who hadn’t stretched. Both groups of participants finished the route at relatively the same time. Researchers concluded that static stretching resulted in decreases in overall explosive force. However studies carried out by Nebraska Wesleyan University observed that those who statically stretched before activity had decreased their overall economy, due to the resulting inhibition of muscle tissue excitability. As opposed to static stretching, dynamic stretching i.e. the stretch one actively moves through and does not hold in the end position, increases blood flow and functional movement. Examples may include leg swings and butt kicks. These mobility movements allow one to warm up the muscles efficiently and recruit more muscle fibers to activate systematically through specific movement. Dynamic stretching routines aid in training specific muscles, allowing for easy firing in the run to follow and has in recent studies improved mileage in some runners. Contradicting research shows that stretching in its’ entirety is unnecessary, as a tighter muscle is a better muscle, having more recoil power than a muscle that has been overly stretched. So in short, the answer to the question actually depends on the individual. If you believe that static stretching will aid in the ‘long run,’ then you are most welcome to do so. However why perform something that may ultimately result in slower starting speed and having you put in the extra effort when you don’t have to. If you must, rather perform static stretching at the end of your run and dynamic stretching before your run to get the muscles ready and waiting to be called upon. Whatever your decision, listen to your body and take notes on the effects and end results of your running economy.