Why is the running community so divided on this topic? Your junior high gym teacher probably required you to do a series of stretches at the beginning of each class. These exercises might have included toe touches and hamstring stretches. Proper form was usually neglected.
But did these exercises actually warm up your muscles and joints? Well, science now suggests that your whistle-blowing phys-ed instructor was ill-advised. Back in 2008, the New York Times reported that “researchers now believe that some of the more entrenched elements of many athletes’ warm-up regimens are not only a waste of time but actually bad for you. The old presumption that holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds—known as static stretching—primes muscles for a workout is dead wrong. It actually weakens them.”
So runners, take heed. Don’t stretch before running. You can risk injury.
“There is a neuromuscular inhibitory response to static stretching,” Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told the Times. “The straining muscle becomes less responsive and stays weakened for up to 30 minutes after stretching, which is not how an athlete wants to begin a workout.”
Jeff Galloway, who is cited in the new book, Return to Fitness, by Bill Katovsky, takes an anti-stretching view; his opinion in all matters of running, is worth listening to: In one of his running books, he writes, ““Stretching is the third leading cause of injury among runners. You can injure yourself while doing a stretch that seems perfectly safe.” Ouch! “Stretching does not warm you up for a run,” he continues.“The best warm-up for running is walking or very slow jogging.”
“The right way to warm-up should do two things: loosen muscles and tendons to increase the range of motion of various joints, and literally warm up the body,” Duane Knudson, professor of kinesiology at California State University, Chico, also told the Times. “When you’re at rest, there’s less blood flow to muscles and tendons, and they stiffen. You need to make tissues and tendons compliant before beginning exercise.”