Do You Stretch After Running?

No. There’s no clear evidence it does much.

By Alex Hutchinson

Some of my best friends stretch after running. That’s okay with me – if it makes them supple and brings them pleasure, then I’m happy for them. But it’s not for me. I stretched religiously for the first decade of my running career, after every run and sometimes several times a day. I had a lot of injuries, which spurred me to stretch even more. Eventually, I got sick of it. I stopped stretching in 2004. I haven’t had any significant injuries since.

Don’t worry, I’m not expecting you to accept my anecdote as any sort of evidence about the effects of stretching. The truth is that, while there have been literally hundreds of studies of stretching, runners and their injuries are too diverse and unpredictable to produce nice unambiguous data on whether stretching helps. When the available studies are pooled, there’s no clear link between stretching and injury reduction, and no effect of stretching on muscle soreness.

Here’s what we do know: Post-run stretching makes you more flexible. That is, it extends your maximum range of motion. That’s great, if your goal is to be more flexible. But there’s no reason to think that having a greater range of motion will prevent running injuries. Most running injuries occur during the course of your typical running stride, not when you’re doing the splits. There may be some specific conditions where tightness in one location is a problem – outer knee soreness from a tight iliotibial band, for example. But in those cases, targeted stretching and strengthening exercises are a cure, not an everyday preventative.

On the hand, we also know that greater flexibility is associated with worse running economy. That’s been demonstrated in elite runners and joggers – in general, the further you can reach past your toes in a sit-and-reach test, the more energy you have to spend to maintain a given running pace. That’s because your legs function like coiled springs, storing energy with each stride and releasing it in the next one. Loose springs don’t store as much energy.

That difference in efficiency is pretty minor, so most people – including me – would accept a slight decrease in efficiency in exchange for fewer injuries. But with no evidence for stretching’s injury-reduction powers, I’m left to decide based on one simple criterion: pleasure. If you like it, carry on. But if you’re one of the browbeaten masses who grudgingly stretch because they feel they “should,” then free yourself from this onerous delusion. I did, and I feel great.


Yes. It’s helped me draw power from more muscles.

By Meghan G. Loftus

Some of my best friends don’t stretch after running. That’s okay with me – I used to be just like them. I also used to be in pain during and after most of my runs, with a bum hip that bothered me on and off for the better part of two years.

I sought professional advice from three physical therapists, all with different recommendations. The one thing they all noticed, though, was the range of motion in my right hip. Namely, that I didn’t have much of it. In fact, one of them said, “Are you serious?” when trying to bend my right leg in a way that, apparently, most people’s legs will bend. (At last, I know why I’m so bad at yoga!)

My current treatment plan involves a series of post-run stretches along with strength work and form drills. My pain has gone away (knock on wood), and I feel like I’m drawing power from muscles I didn’t previously use.

As my coach told me, running with my previous (godawful) range of motion was like driving a car with a flat tyre. My tyre pressure isn’t what it should be just yet – you can’t reverse 10 years of bad habits and tightness in just a few months – but I did knock two minutes off my half-marathon PB this autumn.

I totally agree with Alex that stretching isn’t for everyone. In high school, the kids on the cross-country team with a background in dance or gymnastics (that is, the ones showing us all up during our post-warmup stretches) were the kids at the back of the pack in the actual races. I don’t want to be so flexible that it detracts from my performance. But I don’t want to be so inflexible and off-balance that it detracts from my performance either.

If you don’t need to stretch, I’m jealous. Enjoy all that free time. But if you have aches and pains, stretching might be part of the prescription that gets you healthy.

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