The great stretching debate - newcomers please read this!

With apologies to those who have heard this story before (endlessly), I hope you don't mind me repeating it for the sake of the new runners. There have been lots of queries regarding the need for stretching and warming up and many different opinions. I can't claim to be an expert but these are my credentials such as they are; I have almost 15 years of running experience up to and including half marathons, I belonged to a club whose coach was considered to be one of the best running coaches in the country and I spent six months being treated by a sports physio.

So why have I only recently graduated from the C25K programme? Because two years ago my running was brought fairly abruptly to a halt when my lower back, glutes and right hip totally seized up. The muscles spasm was so great in my glute that it was pulling my right hip out of alignment and causing bursitis of the hip joint. The cause? Years of running and inadequate stretching. Just that. No other cause; no biomechanical problems, no 'wrong shoes', no accidents. Just years of gradual stiffness, that then causes an imbalance, when then has a knock on effect elsewhere... I may have got away with it up to a point if I had taken the time to do core strength and glute work but basically the cause was miles and miles of running without proper stretching.

I have heard it said again and again 'I don't stretch and I am not getting any problems'. How do you know? It isn't instant, it comes from a build up over time. If you are lucky (like me) and are a fairly neutral runner with no biomechanical problems, it may take years. If you do have problems, you may not know about it yet but believe me, you will find out much sooner. It only takes the slightest bit of imbalance that is imperceptibly magnified over time to become a major problem.

I lost two years of running, for six months there is no way I could even try and even once given the go ahead by my physio I kept trying and failing when the injury constantly flared up. Even now, I have to regularly miss runs when I have pushed too hard on either time or speed. I have to take walk breaks when I feel my hip stiffening up and may never again be able to run continuously for long distances. Or at least, my physio said it is possible but only if I can devote huge amounts of time to strength training and extra stretching - time I just don't have. But one thing is certain, never again will I say I don't have time to stretch after a run!

16 Replies

  • I say I'm lucky enough to have a little niggle in my right knee if I don't stretch after a run. It's not bad or anything and I could totally ignore it but it just reminds me to stretch and get rid of it. I have also started to do some hip and glute work and am finding I am now actually running from The hips now rather than a shuffle. This seems to help my legs power better. So I will definitely continue to work on the stretches. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks for that , I've recently had ankle problem ( tendon) & my physio advised me to allways stretch pre run as well as post run do you think pre run stretching is important ?

  • Very green and definitely a newbie having only completed all 3 runs of W1 but I am due to do W2R2 today so have to ask this question because I am unable to find the answer.

    I do exactly as Laura says - warm up walk then the runs and walks and at the end of the pod, the cool down walk - and did suffer some quite bad hip pain after W1R1 but put this down to the terrain over which I did my run. However, the one thing I don't want is this problem so if by doing the stretching exercises I can, hopefully, avoid it, then I will so do BUT I am unable to find written down WHEN to do these stretching exercises apart from the fact that you do them after the run.

    So, two questions, as I am not, as yet, doing a continuous run of any noticeable duration (Week 6:3 seems to be where a good length of running time is first started) is it a good idea to do these stretching exercises now or to wait until there is a good amount of running time in the podcast? And whether the answer to this question is yes or no, the second question has to be are these exercises to be done before the 5 minute cool down brisk walk or after the cool down period?

    Hope someone can help.

    Thank you.


  • Post run stretching should be done after the cool down walk.

    Pre run stretches should be done after your warm up and before your main exercise

  • Get in the habit now. The current runs are short, but they are runs.

  • Thank you for posting this. I increased my stretching regime and introduced core strength exercises after my lower back became very achey, following my push to increase distance to ten miles. I now realise that I was pushing too hard too soon and have reduced my distances. As my core strength increases I will run longer distances again. Muscle imbalances are potentially crippling and good stretching and strengthening is essential to keeping everything working smoothly.

    Good luck YJB1, I hope you crack it. Keep running,keep smiling.

  • It's a fair warning for those who aspire to doing the sort of running you have in your history. Serious running on punishing surfaces (and maybe not other forms of exercise to create a rounded pattern of activity, maybe quite competitive)

    There are other sorts of runners.

  • I agree, it would be good to have a definitive one-stop shop of the ideal stretches and strength exercises for runners. There is so much information and advice/opinions available it is just confusing. From my experience it is best to concentrate on strengh for core, glutes and hips and stretching lower body at least after running although I now have to stretch my lower body every day, sometimes twice, just to stay fully mobile.

  • Unfortunately, for every piece of anecdotal evidence regarding almost anything, there will exist on the Internet, other anecdotal evidence to the contrary. For every piece of opinion from experts (physios, trainers, etc), there is an equal body of opinion from equally qualified experts that says the opposite. eg Jeff Galloway - who has run over 150 full Marathons, does not support stretching.

    I don't know the correct answer to this - except that it seems that nobody has the correct answer because there isn't one.

    Personally, I think that the answer may lie somewhere in the overuse/over-enthusiasm, that can be found amongst people - especially runners. :) Trouble is - how do you know when you are being over-enthusiastic in your use of stretching -- how do you know exactly when a rubber band will break or a balloon will pop???

  • This debate is like the Scottish Referendum debate, both sides giving plasible but opposing views on what will happen in the future and making the wrong choice could result in a lot if pain!

  • I found that doing yoga on my rest days helped with my niggles. I do half an hour and I can feel everything stretching and it feels so good. I am hyper-mobile which means that my joints extend a bit further than other people so stretching for me is actually quite hard as I appear to over stretch but it's just where I have to go to make sure that I am stretching. I stretch my arms out and take longer steps on my 5 minute walks and when I get home I balance on the steps to stretch my calves out and push against a wall to stretch out as well. There is something quite nice about feeling the muscles stretch out, like a good stretch first thing in the morning :-)

  • Considering that flexibility is an indicator of fitness (along with cardio and muscle endurance and strength), I think stretching is good to include as part of a fitness regime regardless.

    I stretch because I get a terrible "knot" in the glute if I don't. (A real PITA in every sense of the term).

  • Oh, yes, I know that feeling! And I agree, gentle stretching is good for everyone.

  • All the advice I have had is to stretch after running, when you get home, after your cool down walk. You need to stretch before your muscle fibres shorten as the blood flow returns to normal. I have also been told there is no need to stretch before but it doesn't hurt as long as your muscles are warm. There are differing opinions and I can only speak fom my own experience but I think gentle regular stretching can benefit anyone even non-runners.

  • I was doing a lot of physio (strengthening/stretching) before starting this programme and for me I wouldn't have been able to even contemplate running without that, but I am disabled with lots of joint issues. To start running to have the energy I gave up my physio stretches and just do the running obviously with warm up/cool down walk however for me warm up is certainly more than 5 minutes while this has been enough at the moment, I know that I will need to re introduce some stretches particular core as I have chronic back pain, but I will be doing these on non run days (I have to manage my energy very carefully). I think there are lots of arguments and for and against stretching pre and post run so people should come to their own conclusions and do what's best for them (for me just the pre and post walk is enough) but stretches on a whole I would wholeheartedly recommend people at least fit in core work into their week somewhere.

  • What a good post. I can understand why the jury is out on what is best as there are some many different results. Although running is one of the most natural beneficial exercises and you do use a lot of different muscles and ligaments, it is still repetitious so you do need to cross train / exercise / stretch in order to prevent injuries. As you say it can be a build up over time before the injuries materialise. I always seemed to be running with injuries including a groin strain for 6 months which prevented me from doing any leg stretching. Under the advice of a physio i now routinely do daily stretching exercises but still find it difficult to do any more than nominal gentle stretching after a run. I've just finished a run now and my thighs hurt so much but stretching just sends nerve pains shooting all round my upper leg - so is it helping or exasperating it ?

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