Some people really enjoy distance running. I am not one of those people. I don’t recommend it for most people. “You can’t run to get fit, you need to be fit to run”, a classic Mike Boyle quote. But in my growth as a trainer I get it. It can relieve stress and make people feel better. I get the same enjoyment from lifting a really heavy weight 1-5 times and then taking a break for a few minutes. Recently the New York Times ran an article (here) about a study that looked at runners and static stretching. The short of it was that static stretching prior to a run had no more benefit in preventing injury in runners than those who did not static stretch prior. Injury rates were the same.
My initial thought is, yea, we knew that. I don’t remember if it was Mike Boyle or Alywn Cosgrove who said that the strength and conditioning field was generally a few years ahead of the research curve, but this study, although informative, seems to be suggesting what many of the experts in our field have been saying for years with a few exceptions. We know that static stretching a cold muscle probably isn’t going to improve length. I recently listened to physical therapist and strength coach Charlie Weingroff talk about how some length may be gained but it could potentially be in the wrong places, i.e. in the quality tissue but not in the dense fibrotic tissue that really needs work. Consider the rubber band and knot analogy. If you just keep pulling on both ends of the band not much good is going to happen.
The article also mentions studies that show static stretching can reduce power output. Again, this might be true but it’s not often that someone holds a long drawn out stretch and then immediately tries to produce some explosive power. Before we throw static stretching out the window we need to consider at what point does the ability to produce power return after a bout of static stretching? Is it hours later or more likely within the 15 or so minutes that it will take to complete your dynamic warm up and then actually perform an explosive movement?
So what should runners do? Is there any solution? Start a running program and if you become part of this study’s 16% destined for injury then sorry about your luck? The study suggests a light warm up followed by some dynamic warm up. This is probably a better idea but I think the answer lies in what most high level strength coaches are already doing. Getting athletes and clients to pay attention to soft tissue work whether you have access to manual therapy or simply a foam roller and a lacrosse ball. A good time to static stretch may be after getting some of the kinks out by foam rolling. Then perform a dynamic warm up. It seems that most endurance athletes take a more is better approach to their training. I can’t say that I agree with that but in the very least they are giving themselves a chance to stay healthy by addressing soft tissue restrictions and creating better joint mobility through the process described above. How to really be productive in your mobility work is a large topic unto itself but here are some tips. After all, the goal here is to be healthy whether for longevity or competition. If you are doing something that hurts you it’s counterproductive to your goals. Stay healthy my friends.