The Great Stretching Debate

This can be a tricky topic, as stretching seems to be highly debated recently among fitness professionals ands sports medicine providers. I know I have been told by different medical professionals quite a bit of contradicting information. The most recent advice I have been given is to not stretch, except for my hip flexors, which I will talk about later. For some this may be crazy talk, but hear me out. Luckily at that point I had already read some information about why stretching may be unnecessary in some ways so I didn’t run away when he said this.

To Stretch or Not To Stretch- 

The most helpful resource I have read about this topic (along with MUCH more) is “Anatomy for Runners” by Jay DiCharry. He explains everything about how the runner’s body works in a way that makes sense and is easy to understand. I refer back to his book all the time. He explains that some areas of the body may not have enough range of motion for running, and in those cases you need to work on lengthening the muscle through stretching, but this can take a long time. For example, if your hip flexors are tight (like mine) you need to hold a hip flexor stretch for up to 5 minutes on each side in order to change the length of the tissue. He has ways to test this on your own, so I won’t get into too much more detail.

hip flexor

source 

He also talks about self myofascial release. This is foam rolling, trigger point therapy, etc. It helps to loosen up knots in the muscles that are developed from periods of hard training or injury. Let’s say you injure your ankle, it heals, and now you have a layer of scar tissue there that is like a knot and can cause restrictions. Also, each time you train your muscles break down and then rebuild, and there is some scar tissue there too. This stuff needs to be broken up so that you can move properly. If you just stretch these areas, it won’t do anything. Imagine a rope with a knot in in. If you keep pulling the rope to make it longer, you are really only making the knot tighter.

foam rolling

Another resource that does not promote stretching is The Sock Doc. He explains here his views regarding the topic, including that stretching make muscles weaker and there are other factors involved in a person’s flexibility.

I think the latest “trend’ in running is to only incorporate static stretching after a workout, and to do a dynamic warm- up before. While this makes sense, do you feel a difference from static stretching after your run? If your answer is yes and you’re not having any problems, continue doing what you’re doing. I wasn’t noticing a difference (I did find that foam rolling after a run helped much more than stretching) so over the past two months I no longer use a static stretching routine after working out.

philly marathonStretching post-marathon 2011 

Instead, I do a dynamic warm- up before I run (which may involve foam rolling , core work, and dynamic stretches) and then when I get back the only stretching I do is my hip flexors. This is because I do not have enough range of motion there, so by holding a long hip flexor stretch (1-3 minutes every day) along with other things including ART/trigger point therapy and foam rolling, hopefully the tissues will lengthen to allow me to open my stride more. I also do the myrtle routine which helps with mobility and stability of the hip girdle area. Then I foam roll and use the stick or a lacrosse ball.

post run routine

It is very likely that I have a ton of scar tissue around my left hip flexor because I had surgery there three years ago. If those tight spots are reducing my range of motion it can cause my gait to change or other muscles to become overworked. I think this had something to do with the tightness I was having in my leg right before my last marathon.

tape

 

I also use yoga to work on my flexibility, but I think its really important to listen to your body and not overstretch, which can do more harm than good. I like hot classes because I feel like it helps me to get into poses more easily. I also find that yoga helps me to gain awareness of my body and it’s limitations.

This post is not at all meant to give advice on whether or not to stretch, or how to stretch. (I am not qualified to do so!) I just wanted to share some of the information that I have found to be helpful and maybe give people some insight into a different viewpoint about stretching. As with anything, I think it’s important to think about WHY you are doing something. Are you stretching just because Runner’s World has been telling you to for the past few decades? (But check out this article)If you are working with a physical therapist/chiropractor/etc and they are recommending stretches, it may be worth asking them why you should do it and how it will help you.

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this topic!

Do you stretch? How has your view of stretching changed over the years?

Have you read any helpful articles/books about the topic?

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27 responses on The Great Stretching Debate

  1. I am a big proponent of stretching! I stretch every day, and have done so for years. After an intense step/aerobics class, I so look forward to the stretching segment at the end of the class, and I like the warm-up beforehand. I started running as a very young girl, and always enjoyed my stretching after running. I, too, have been reading lately that it’s not necessary anymore, but I don’t plan on stopping.

    1. That’s great that it has worked so well for you over the years! I know when I was dancing I always stretched and it felt great. (But you need much more flexibility to dance than to run). Warm ups are so important, too!

    1. Haha, this morning Rob was stretching after his run and I was like…I guess you haven’t ready my blog this morning:)
      I think if you’re stretching what feels tight and its helping, then great! I think I was stretching too much and it wasn’t helping/possibly making things worse.

  2. I don’t stretch as much immediately post run, but I like to go to yoga later on in the day. I think my whole body just needs the rest right after, and my mind, too. I might foam roll, but that is about it. And you saw what I do for my warm up on Saturday–I have realized that is more about awakening my muscles that it is overriding them with autogenic inhibition. Thus why I lay down on a lacrosse ball.
    Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted…Lorna Jane’s NOURISH #WIAWMy Profile

    1. You used some words that I don’t understand but I think I get your point:) I have found that yoga works better for me, but I used to be a slave to the post run stretch. I just think that the foam roller and lax ball helps more for my personal needs.

  3. This makes me happy because I hate stretching haha I never really feel a difference although I do think I could benefit with some yoga again. I will be popping in at Sid Yoga as soon as I’m back in town. Otherwise, my stretching is basically nonexistent, and while that may not be great, it is what it is.
    Sarah @pickyrunner recently posted…My move to BaltimoreMy Profile

    1. I’m sure alot of people hearing this new info are excited because they don’t like stretching or never do it! If you’re not having issues, I don’t see the problem. Although I do think that foam rolling and such (or an occasional massage) can be helpful to prevent problems.

  4. I tend to stretch and roll directly after my runs! I used to be really bad at stretching/rolling and I could feel it over the years (ITB woes) Luckily, I’m SLIGHTLY more on the ball (haha pun intended!) when it comes to my post run routine but I’m still need to be better at it since I can barely reach my toes!
    Carmy recently posted…WIAW! #5My Profile

    1. Haha love the pun! I need to stay focused after my run to get it all in or I get distracted and waste time, and then need to leave for work. If I can’t foam roll right after my run I make sure to do it later in the day.

  5. Loved this. I have a similar post planned. I do dynamic stretching before I run and static stretching after. There still such a huge debate on it that it’s so hard to know what’s actually “right,” but I totally agree with you, it’s best to do what you think helps you, even if that means going against the science of it all. :)
    Hailey recently posted…Training 7.7.14 – 7.13.14My Profile

    1. Exactly! I was nervous to write this because I didn’t want it to come off like I was giving advice. For years I did static stretching before I exercised, and as far as I know it never caused any problems- but now that is such a big no-no that I would never consider it! I’m looking forward to reading your post about the topic!

  6. Really useful post, thank you!!!

    Stretching my hip flexors and calves always seems to help, but everything else has always felt like a waste of time to me. I didn’t realize we could hold hip flexor stretches for so long. I always read 30 seconds to 1 minute. I sometimes hold for 2 minutes because it feels so good/helpful… and now I will start holding for even longer when they are feeling extra tight (like right now). Thanks, Lisa!
    Kristina @ Blog About Running recently posted…80 Days Until the Portland Marathon (Not That I’m Counting)My Profile

    1. Glad you liked the info! The theory is that the only point of stretching is to actually make the muscles longer permanently, and in order to do that you need to hold the stretch for several minutes. He also recommends the same thing about the calves. But using a foam roller can help the process, too. (So foam rolling the calves and then stretching them for a few minutes, and then using a lax ball in the hip area and then stretching that out).

  7. I used to stretch a lot and was attending yoga classes twice a week and practicing at home too. In recent months I’ve been a slacker though and I’m wondering if it has had something to do with the nerve issues I’ve been experiencing. So now I’m making my best effort to get to class and stretch more. Even if that’s not the reason why I figure it can’t necessarily be bad for me.
    Salt recently posted…Yet another post about shoes.My Profile

    1. When I was having issues with my sciatic nerve I think I actually irritated it more by stretching my hamstring. My PT had me do “nerve flossing” instead which was like a hamstring stretch but you flex your foot back and forth instead of just holding it straight.
      I do think that yoga is so awesome for flexibility, though!

  8. I am a big fan of foam rolling. I actually just looked up some hip flexor stretches online to do. I noticed some tightness. Share any you have! I stretch some when I am finished, but it isn’t really to help my running. I am trying to keep my flexibility from my old days as a ballerina. It is just easiest for me to remember if I include it in my post run routine.
    Amy recently posted…New Workout Clothes! – tasc PerformanceMy Profile

    1. I used to be so flexible when i danced! I could do splits and everything. Now- no way. For my hips I usually just do a low lunge with my knee on the ground, or pigeon pose.

  9. I recently added the Myrtl routine after workouts as well as a few other active isolated stretches and foam rolling. I have a few areas with limited range of motion and these feel like they are helping.

    I love yoga, but I think some of the stretches don’t feel particularly useful to me (although some would be cool if I could actually do them better). I do feel like when I’m not doing yoga at least once a week, my body doesn’t feel as good, so there is that.

    Great post!
    Judith recently posted…Not Quite a Recovery RunMy Profile

    1. I know what you mean about noticing when you don’t do yoga for awhile! I’ve learned that its best if I go at least every other week.
      And the myrtle routine has been great for strength and mobility, and I love that it only takes a few minutes!

  10. I’m a huge fan of stretching. I’ve been doing yoga for years, and I see the benefits in my running. I feel it in my running if I don’t stretch. I don’t understand the issues with stretching. Now people are saying foam rolling is bad, too! Everything in moderation!
    Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home recently posted…Social Media ManiaMy Profile

    1. The latest advice changes constantly, right?! I think its just important to find what works for you. I wrote this post almost a year ago, and since then I have gone back and forth with stretching. I prefer a good yoga session, but still usually do some light stretching (definitely hip flexors) after a run.

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