To stretch or not to stretch–is that the pre-race question?
Not exactly, but it’s close.
For those of us who have been running for decades, we now learn something new – static stretching vs. dynamic stretching.
Okay, so maybe it’s not new. Dynamic stretching has actually been around for thousands of years (it’s what those “vinyasas” are in yoga class), but its actual application for runners is a relatively new-ish thing for most runners. Or at least something that has a lot of runners confused. Stretching before running can also be downright overwhelming to new runners training for their first race!
So what is it?
To simplify, dynamic stretching is the kind of stretching that links breath to movement (and involves lots of movement) while static stretching is when you hold a specific pose for a period of time with little to no movement (think of that ballet dancer in long holds).
- Dynamic stretching = what to do before you run.
- Static stretching = what to do when your run is done. (Sometimes you may even do this many hours later…I even practice a few static yoga stretches in my bed before I go to sleep!)
To help shed some light on this often-puzzling conversation, I sat down with my personal Physical Therapist–Eric Schweitzer, Board Certified Doctor of Physical Therapy and running medicine specialist at Premier Physical Therapy & Yoga in Clearwater, Florida to get his professional opinion. He advises:
“The consensus at this time is that static stretching can negatively impact subsequent sport performance, is considered less functional and does not increase core body temperature as much as dynamic stretching. Based on the research, we recommend using dynamic over static stretching as part of an active warm-up.”
What does this mean? It means that dynamic stretching is the way to go to help you before you run. What does this look like? Active lunging, vinyasas (aka those “sun salutations” at yoga), and other movements that involve one-breath per movement and help to get your muscles fired up!
I make sure to practice moving lunges (see below for a lunge photo) and take my spine through all ranges of motion before I pound the pavement. I make sure to keep one breath per movement and keep my body, well, moving.
After my run, I embrace static stretching to help recover. You will see me practice my quad stretch in line for my post-race beer! 🙂 To me stretching afterwards not only feels good but, as Dr. Eric states static stretching “can increase the length of muscles and the mobility in joints.” This increased length and mobility can help prevent injury, recover from injury, and help ease post-run soreness. What runner doesn’t want that?
What static stretching do I practice?
In addition to stretching my quad, you will find me stretching my hamstring with a flat back (shown below) or gently opening my hips in butterfly pose while watching television. I make sure to keep my back long in every pose, stay mindful of my breath, and be aware of my knees and foundation.
In all stretches for running it is important to maintain form (just like when you run), not force yourself to go too deeply into a posture (just like it’s best not to rush out of the gate in your race to make sure your body is still happy at mile 12), and listen to what’s best. For me, I hold my static stretches for a minimum of five solid breaths. You may find that you need to hold poses longer or repeat one side that is tighter!
The end result
Both dynamic and static stretching are good for you. The important thing is to know when to use each one. I always like to remind myself of this image. Dynamic stretching is good to do beforehand because you need speed and energy. Static stretching is what you do after you run to regain the length you may have lost during your workout. And if you get confused? Just think of getting a massage. A massage is like static stretching. It feels amazing. You grow taller. Running afterwards would NOT feel good. (Have you ever tried? I have. I felt like a zombie version of Gumby! Pretty sure that was the WORST run of my entire life. If you’ve ever done it, you will NEVER do it again.)
Dynamic pre-run + static post-run = happiness throughout the entire running sequence! The best way is to keep both types of stretching in your practice, incorporating dynamic movement before your run and static long-hold stretches afterwards.
Questions? Let me know and I am happy to help! What’s your favorite way to stretch? Let us know in the comments below!