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Jockology: some (but not all) pre-run stretching slows you down

March 18th, 2010

I posted last month about a new study on how static stretching before your run makes you slower and less efficient. To find out more about the study, I got in touch with the lead author, FSU’s Jacob Wilson. The result is this week’s Jockology column:

For years, researchers have been finding that the more flexible you are, the less efficiently you run – a message that tradition-bound runners have been reluctant to hear. Now, research to be published later this year in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research makes it clear that some (but not all) prerun stretching makes you slower. [read the whole article]

The most significant new piece of news in the article is that Wilson and his colleagues have just finished a follow-up study, in which they used the exact same protocol to study dynamic stretching. They’re still completing the analysis, but the results appear to show no significant decrease in performance for pre-run dynamic stretching. This means that you can still get your flexibility fix before a run without compromising performance — you just need to use dynamic stretches instead of static ones. (Some examples, with illustrations, are provided in the Jockology article.)

Drilling deeper into the dynamic stretching data, Wilson said it appeared that the most experienced runners weren’t affected by the pre-run stretches. Less experienced and less fit runners, on the other hand, still saw a bit of performance decline, probably because the unfamiliar stretches fatigued them a bit. So make sure you practice these stretches before trying them in a race situation. (This last stuff is very preliminary, so it may not be statistically significant — we’ll have to wait until the study is published to see.)

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  1. chris
    May 24th, 2010 at 18:29 | #1

    Dear Jockology,
    Firstly, what is your name?
    Secondly, what about stretching AFTER a run? By definition, this won’t affect the performance on the run you have just completed. But could it improve performance over a long time scale? I would imagine that a scientific study of this question would be much harder to implement because of the longer time scale of the hypothesis.
    Thanks, Chris

  2. alex
    May 24th, 2010 at 21:38 | #2

    Hi @chris,

    My name is Alex Hutchinson (if you click the “About” link above, you can find out more about me).

    As for stretching AFTER running, the jury is still out, but it’s far more likely to produce positive effects. At the very least, it doesn’t produce direct NEGATIVE effects on your run (other than the possibility that having looser muscles and tendons will chronically lower your running economy). On the other hand, some studies have shown that consistent stretching increases strength, and may be associated with reduced injuries. If you happen to be particularly inflexible, or have some problem spots where you often get tight, then stretching after a run may be a good idea.

  3. chris
    May 25th, 2010 at 18:46 | #3

    Dear Alex,
    There are so much that is not know. But here is something I keep coming back to. I ran in my youth, then lifted weights, then took up dancing, starting with ballet, for fifteen years. You might have heard the name Michael Baryishnikov, greatest ballet dancer of all time. This man was very flexible (although he rarely showed it off). Most ballet dancers stretch before they workout, and then again afterward. I presume he did the same. Yet Baryishniikov gained his fame for his incredible power. I heard once that the vertical displacement of his leap was second in the world, just behind a volleyball player. I wish somebody would ask Baryishnikov how he did it.

    Chris

  4. chris
    May 25th, 2010 at 19:13 | #4

    P.S. Just noticed you do physics. I’m currently a physics researcher in Condensed Matter. Haven’t been published in a few years, but am hoping to get back at it.

    Chris

  5. alex
    May 25th, 2010 at 20:53 | #5

    Yes, that’s an important caveat — some sports and activities really do benefit from flexibility, dancing being one of the best examples. Goaltenders in hockey and soccer also require the ability to contort themselves into strange postures as they try to block shots, so stretching is key there.

    With running, on the other hand, you never push your legs outside their normal range of motion, so it’s not clear why extending that range of motion should make any difference to injury risk. Warming up the muscles, in contrast, should definitely reduce the risk of injury from explosive motion like sprinting and jumping — and I’ll bet Baryshnikov did plenty of warming up as well as stretching.

    In general, though, I agree: there’s lots that simply isn’t known at this point.

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