Static stretching involves lengthening of a muscle until gentle tension is felt and this position is then typically held for 30 s per stretch. Traditionally, stretching, and in particular static stretching has been an integral part of training for many runners. It is typically performed during the warm-up prior to training and competition as it is believed that it prevents injuries, reduces muscle soreness and enhances sports performance. However, an increasing body of research suggests that these believes are wrong.

1.      Static stretching does not enhance sports performance

When static stretching is performed right before a training or competition, it usually leads to a decrease in performance [1, 2]. This is probably because running gets less efficient (running economy decreases) as a result of a reduced stability and reduced force production, which in turn are the result of a decreased musculotendinous stiffness. Therefore, static stretching should generally not be an integral part of a warm-up before running.

So what about static stretching after the training to improve flexibility? Chronic (several weeks) stretching has not been shown to improve running economy and the results from several cross-sectional studies suggest that better distance runners are actually less flexible [1]! Therefore, from a performance enhancement perspective, static stretching appears to have little purpose and trying to improve the flexibility by static stretching may actually lead to a decrease in sports performance.

“Static stretching appears to have little purpose and trying to improve the flexibility by static stretching may actually decrease sports performance.”

2.      Static stretching does not prevent injuries

Most recreational runners run for their health and they are not very interested in sports performance. Is it for these runners useful to do static stretching to prevent running-related injuries? Most running-related injuries are degenerative injuries such as Achilles tendinopathy and plantar fasciitis rather than strain injuries. Although static stretching may have some effects on strain injuries [3], an increasing body of research suggests that it has a minimum to no effect on the prevention of degenerative injuries [1]. Therefore, static stretching also appears to have little purpose to prevent running-related injuries.

“Static stretching appears to have little purpose to prevent running-related injuries.”

3.      Static stretching does not reduce muscle soreness

Muscle soreness is discomforting and most pronounced after high-intensity exercise or exercise in which the musculotendinous complex lengthens while being activated (eccentric muscle action). It is widely believed that static stretching reduces muscle soreness. However, several studies have shown that static stretching generally has only minor effects on muscle soreness [1, 4] and static stretching is therefore not recommended as an effective strategy to reduce muscle soreness.

“Static stretching is not recommended as an effective strategy to reduce muscle soreness.”

Conclusion and practical applications

An increasing body of research suggests that static stretching is not useful to reduce running-related injuries, reduce muscle soreness and it may actually decrease sports performance. Therefore, runners should use other strategies to prevent running-related injuries, reduce muscle soreness and improve sports performance. One of these strategies is dynamic stretching, which may enhance performance when performed during a warm-up [5-7].

Static stretching for runners

References

1. Baxter C, Mc Naughton LR, Sparks A, Norton L, Bentley D. Impact of stretching on the performance and injury risk of long-distance runners. Research in sports medicine (Print). 2017;25(1):78-90. doi:10.1080/15438627.2016.1258640.

2. Simic L, Sarabon N, Markovic G. Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta-analytical review. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013;23(2):131-48. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01444.x.

3. McHugh MP, Cosgrave CH. To stretch or not to stretch: the role of stretching in injury prevention and performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010;20(2):169-81.

4. Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011(7):CD004577. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub3.

5. Yamaguchi T, Takizawa K, Shibata K. Acute Effect of Dynamic Stretching on Endurance Running Performance in Well-Trained Male Runners. J Strength Cond Res. 2015;29(11):3045-52. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000969.

6. Yamaguchi T, Ishii K. An optimal protocol for dynamic stretching to improve explosive performance. The Journal of Physical Fitness and Sports Medicine. 2014;3(1):121-9.

7. Behm DG, Chaouachi A. A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011;111(11):2633-51. doi:10.1007/s00421-011-1879-2.

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