You see the recommendation everywhere stretch, stretch, stretch, you’ve gotta stretch. Even I’ve made recommendations like this, you’ve gotta stretch, you’ve gotta warm up, do all these things before you go out and run. But, you may have recently seen, and this is why you’re here with me that stretching may not be as effective as we think it is. So, you’re wondering, does stretching actually prevent injuries from running?
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Now, I’ve done a stretching routine for a very long time. I kind of built this up in college or rather inherited it from several different coaches. It kept some pieces, added on other pieces from other coaches over time. It’s been almost 10 years now since college, can’t believe it. But I have this stretching routine that I do before and I do after. It is actually more active stretching, which I can cover in another video. If you want to see that, leave me a comment.
But it is something I continued to do in part because of the study that I saw that looked at stretching versus injuries. I was very injury-prone in college. Now, that is a whole other ball of wax that has to do with too high of loads.
But at the time, I thought it was partially because of stretching. That’s what we hear, right? If you’re hurt, you need to stretch more. You need to stretch because you’re hurt, you need to stretch to prevent being hurt. All of these kinds of things are very common in running circles from coaches, people I mean, here on YouTube, maybe even your friends.
And this study I saw did three groups, a group that did no stretching, a group that stretched beforehand, and a group that stretched before and after. What they found was that the group that stretched only before actually had the highest rate of injury. The group that stretched at not at all had the next highest or the next lowest, I guess they’re in the middle. And then the ones that stretch before and after had the lowest incidence of injury.
So, because of that, I tried to stay ritualistic with my routine of warming up, stretching a bit beforehand, and then stretching when I get done as well. On top of just my coaches over time saying this is what you should be doing. You say, “Coach, what should I be doing?” They say, “Do this.” And you say, “Okay.” That’s pretty much how the relationship goes.
But there haven’t been more studies done besides that one that I saw, and the differences between them are pretty stark. Now, these stark differences can be prescribed to many different things. If the N number is small. And by N, I mean the number of participants in a study.
So, if you look at a study and it says N equals 10, that means that there’s only a small number of people in that study. But many of these studies have a thousand or thousands of participants, meaning that the data should be fairly reliable. And when a lot of these studies over and over and over seem to be indicating is that no, in fact, injuries are not prevented by stretching.
And they’ll break it out different ways. Depending on what the study is, sometimes they’ll do stretching beforehand, do stretching after, typically your control group is going to be no stretching at all. And they actually find in some of them, the incidence of injury is higher in the stretching group than the non-stretching group.
Interestingly, one of the studies found that people with low flexibility and very high flexibility, both had more injuries than the people that had average flexibility. So, how tough is that going to be trying to get to average? We just want to be average, which isn’t our status quo, right? You and I, we want to be better than average. That’s why you’re here with me trying to learn about things. But this is all to say that we’ve kind of found that really stretching does not prevent injuries. And, one of my guests on the Smart Athlete Podcast, Christie Aschwanden, wrote Good To Go.
In her book, she also comes to this conclusion. She covers a bunch of different recovery options in this book and kind of debunk some myths. One of them being that stretching does not actually prevent injuries. Now, I interviewed Christie quite a while ago, and I still continue to stretch, so am I a hypocrite? Am I out of my mind? Am I simply getting old and saying, I’m never going to change anything because this is just the way things are? Now, I think that’s a bad attitude. And no, that is not why I keep stretching. It does feel good and that’s nice, some things you do because you like them just to enjoy them.
However, there is a very important key in why I continue to stretch, even if it doesn’t prevent injuries. And that is this; we know for a fact for certain that flexible muscles are strong muscles. Now, there is a point of diminishing returns where if you’re hyper-flexible, that can be another issue. But being tight is not great either. Because when your muscles contract, the harder they can contract, the more power they can produce. When they can produce more power, that means you go faster.
I actually talked about this with another guest on the Smart Athlete Podcast, Dr. Keith Barr, who researches tendon flexibility, tendon strength, and the relationship between tendons, skeletal tissue muscles, all those kinds of things. It’s actually the most popular episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast to date. So, you should definitely check him out. Both Christie and Dr. Keith, I’ll have links at the end of this episode. So, stay tuned for that.
The point is that we need to continue to stretch because we want to continue to produce power at a high rate, even if it doesn’t prevent injuries. We have all these studies that say no, it probably doesn’t. That study I, you know, kind of relied on for such a long time that said, yeah, there is some efficacy to this idea regardless of whether it does or doesn’t.
And again, at this point, I would say it probably does not. We know that it does have a positive effect on our performance. So, if you decide I don’t want to stretch anymore, and you’re not progressing as much, it may be something to look into.
That being said, doing a static stretching routine is probably not the best option, especially pre-workout, pre-run. There are other things you can do small motions, dynamic stretching, as it’s referred to. That is going to be the thing to go to, to warm up to get ready to run versus static stretching. We can cover all that in another video.
If you’d like to see a dynamic stretching routine that I do before I go run and sometimes I after, but especially at the track before speed work, leave in the comments below say yes, I want to see that dynamic stretching routine. So, there’s your answer. I think the answer is no. If you’d like to check out my interviews with Christie or Dr. Keith, those should be popping up on the screen now. And I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.