I have questioned the efficacy of stretching on running performance. In my experience, stretching before running gave me NO added value in performance or injury prevention. But, what is the first thing runners do when they have tight leg muscles? They stretch, usually before and after running. But contrary to popular belief that stretching out leg muscle tightness is a good thing, stretching can actually impair components of the running gait.
Another common belief, and misconception in my opinion, is that muscle tightness is an injury in the making, and stretching and massaging will stop a tight muscle from progressing into a serious injury. However, there is not a lot of research that provides support on the connection between leg muscle tightness and injury in runners. In fact, new studies are suggesting that tight muscles may help you run better!
Why Tight Leg Muscles Are a Good Thing for Running Performance
A study by Takahashi et al. 2012 investigated the effects of muscle tightness in the lower back and the legs on running motion in 543 runners and found that runners had a more efficient propulsive phase of running gait with having tight hamstring and gastrocnemius muscles. Based on these finding, we need to remind runners not to panic and stretch their legs every time a little tightness creeps up because doing so many interfere with your mechanical efficiency when running.
In fact, you may be surprised to know that stretching may completely ruin your performance, especially if you are a long distance runner. In fact, one study found that ‘tighter’ runners who didn’t stretch before running performed way better than the runners who loosened up via stretching before running. And, stretching may even give you weaker muscles, too!
So next time you run, don’t make stretching your go-to performance enhancer because research is demonstrating that stretching and running might not go well together. Completely avoid stretching, before and after running, for a few weeks, and you may find that you can get more out of running than if you stretched.
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Takahashi, et al. 2012 A large-scale survey of muscle tightness in elite Japanese runners. Jap J Clin Sports Med, 2012; 20(1):41-48.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.