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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?