To stretch or not to stretch?

Ahhh....that is the question. Much debate has been placed on stretching in both the running/fitness world and rehab world. Does it really do anything? Will it lessen the risk of injury or make it greater? Well I hate to say it folks, but the evidence is all over the map. Well running season is upon us (well, for those of us that have been buried in snow for the past 4 months), so how timely it is to evaluate our routines. 

Static stretching (the type of stretching we all tend to envision -- where you stay in one position for a prolonged period of time, stretching a particular muscle group) has commonly been used as a warm-up. There is little, if any, evidence that stretching before or after activity prevents injury or subsequent muscle soreness. Not only has it been demonstrated that static stretching had no effect on subsequent performance, static stretching has also been shown to lead to a decrease in force production, power performance, running speed, reaction and movement time, and strength endurance. 

Ballistic stretching (stretching a muscle, then "bounce" in and out of the stretch) has been shown to be detrimental to subsequent performance. 

Dynamic stretching (exaggerating the physiological range of motion required for the functional movement) does not seem to elicit the performance reduction effects of static and ballistic stretching and has been shown to improve subsequent running performance. Given these outcomes, the use of static and ballistic stretching in warm-up needs to be questioned. Based on current evidence, dynamic stretching would be the preferred option for stretching during a warm-up.*

So, that's the gist of where the research is at now. Evidence is great, but I trust anecdotal experience much more. Luckily in this case, we all agree. As an athlete and physiotherapist, I find dynamic stretching to be a great way to "loosen up" before a run or activity and I commonly prescribe it to patients/clients that have muscle imbalances, still joints and sport-specific injuries that need attention. 

Below you can see a video I made showing a simple dynamic warm-up I like to do before a run. For some reason, I wasn't wise enough to film this before the run and thus had to do it after a solid 14km. That will explain the lack of pep and the excess of sweat :)

So, what's the consensus? Perhaps you healthy, injury-free lucky ducks can skip the stretch and hit the ground running (literally). However, I would recommend a little dynamic stretch for 5-10 minutes - if nothing else you will feel a little looser, give yourself a chance to find your playlist and give the spectators at the park something to talk about :)


* evidence from above gathered from the following sources:

  • Page, P. Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2012 Feb: 7(1): 109-119 (link here)

  • Baechle & Earle. Essentials of strength and conditioning - 3rd Edition. NSCA (2008). (link here)