Running 101: Stretching For Runners

Here’s why and how you should make a little time to work on your flexibility.

The primary perceived benefit of stretching for runners is injury prevention. But in the best recent controlled studies, stretching has not reduced the incidence of injuries to the lower extremities to a statistically significant degree. On the basis of such studies, many exercise physiologists advise runners not to stretch.

The main problem with this advice and the studies upon which it is based is that they come at stretching from the wrong side of injury. Targeted stretching of abnormally tight muscles and tendons has proven to be an extremely effective means of rehabilitating and preventing the recurrence of specific injuries in runners. This is because abnormal tightness in specific muscles and tendons is without question a contributing cause of particular running injuries, and stretching can increase the elasticity of muscles and tendons.

Every day, physical therapists prescribe targeted stretching exercises to rehabilitate and prevent recurrence of five different injuries that are frequently associated with tightness in muscles and tendons. Abnormally tight calves and Achilles tendons contribute to plantar fasciitis, shin splints, Achilles tendinosis, and calf muscle strains. Abnormally tight hamstrings and hip flexors often precipitate strains in these muscles. And an abnormally tight iliotibial band is commonly seen in runners suffering from IT band friction syndrome.

There is no doubt that stretching plays a positive role in the successful rehabilitation of many cases of these injuries, so it only stands to reason that it can also prevent many cases of these same injuries (or at least prevent their recurrence). For this reason, I recommend that you stretch the above-mentioned muscles and tendons daily. There are various methods of stretching to increase muscle elasticity and joint range of motion: active isolated stretching, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, etc. The simplest is gold old-fashioned static stretching. Here’s a basic static stretching routine for runners.

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