Many old-school runners feel that you should stretch before you go out for a run. However, research has found that it is actually not good for you to stretch cold muscles. Stretching muscles before they are warmed up can cause injury. The best way to warm up before a run is to go for a walk – or just run your first mile slowly for a warm up.
If you still feel that you want to stretch before your run, you can go for a walk as a warm up and then do your stretching before you head out.
Stretching is fine after you come in from your run. Your muscles are adequately warmed up. However, if you have been on a longer run (90 minutes or more) be careful with your stretching as your muscles are fatigued. Make sure you are gently stretching those sore muscles.
Runners who are advocates for stretching also say that running will prevent injuries. Studies have found that this is not necessary the case. The studies show that running injuries are prevented more by strength training and balance exercises. However, stretching will increase your flexibility. And, in my opinion, increased flexibility will help your overall running and make you a more efficient runner.
Many runners just like to stretch after running just for the simple fact that it makes them feel good. It also helps them to relax – so that can be a definite benefit.
If you do want to stretch after running, the important areas to stretch are the quads, hamstrings, calves and hips. Here are some quick stretching tips: stretch slowly and hold for 15 seconds, stretch both sides (not one leg and not the other), don’t bounce a stretch and make sure you are breathing – don’t hold your breath.
The stretching debate will probably continue on and on for years. I personally like to do some light stretching after my runs. That’s what works for me. Do whatever feels good for you. You may find that you love stretching or that you don’t benefit or all. As always, listen to what your body is telling you it wants.