Stretching Before Running

Stretching Before Running: Which Type of Stretching Is Best?

Stretching before running, or before performing any type of physical activity, is recommended to prevent injury and to prepare your muscles for physical exertion.  There are different types of stretches that you can do before going on a run, such as static, ballistic or dynamic stretches.  There is not one form of stretching that is widely considered superior to the others.  There are pros and cons to each, it really comes down to what you personally are comfortable doing.  I think the best plan is to incorporate dynamic and static stretches before going for a run.  All stretching should be done after doing a 5-10 minute warm-up, consisting of some type of aerobic activity.  Stretching cold muscles can lead to injury, which is why stretching before running is very important.

Stretching Before Running - Dynamic
Dynamic stretching involves doing specific movements that are applicable to the activity you will be participating in.  It’s moving parts of your body while slowly increasing your reach and speed of movement, all in a controlled fashion.  The goal is for your body to ultimately achieve its full range of motion.  By doing this, your muscles will be warmed up and your body will be ready for the upcoming activity.  That's why dynamic stretching before running is very beneficial.

 Dynamic Stretches

Leg Swings
-Stand facing a wall and slowly swing one leg back and forth, across your body.  Start slowly and gradually increase the range of motion with the movement.  Once you've reached your full range of motion, switch to the other leg.

Arm Swings
-Swing both arms across your body, like you're hugging yourself.  Alternate which arm goes above the other with each swing.

Walking Lunges
-Perform walking lunges using only your bodyweight.  Do 8-12 reps for each leg.

Bodyweight Squats
-Perform squats using only your bodyweight.  Do 8-12 reps.

I would recommend doing all of these types of dynamic stretching before you go running, spending about 30 seconds to one minute on each stretch.

Stretching Before Running - Static
Doing static stretching before running involves stretching muscles while your body is at rest, which means you're not moving when doing these stretches.  You stretch to a certain point and hold it, usually for a minimum of 30 seconds.  These stretches elongate the muscles and increase your flexibility.

There are those who believe you should not do static stretching before you go running, because these stretches can temporarily weaken your muscles.  These stretch techniques relax your muscles, which isn't necessarily what you want before engaging in physical activity.  However, there is not definitive proof that static stretching before running leads to more injuries.  Personally, I always do static stretching before I go running or do any type of physical activity.  I've pulled my hamstring muscle twice in my entire life, which would probably come out to less than a .01% injury rate.  I don't see anything wrong with doing static stretching before running.

Static Stretches

Hamstring Stretch
-Stand with both feet close together.
-Hang your arms out in front of you in a straight line.
-Bend at your waist and try to touch your toes.
-Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Calf Stretch
-Extend your arms and put your hands on something sturdy, such as a wall or a tree.
-Straighten out your legs, make sure your feet are back far enough so your heels aren't touching the ground.
-Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Quad Stretch
-Lay down on your back.
-Push your right knee toward your chest while keeping your left leg straight.
-Using both hands, grab right beneath your right knee and pull toward your chest.
-Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
-Repeat the stretch using your left leg.

Side Stretch
-Stand up straight and have both arms in a straight line above your head, as though you're reaching for the sky.
-Move your left arm down to your side, stick your right hip out, and stretch your right arm as far as you can across your body, keeping it straight and over your head.  
-This should stretch your right side and oblique muscles.
-Repeat on the other side.

I would recommend doing each type of static stretching for 30 seconds before you go running.  Also, this is a very short list of static stretches.  I would advise any runner to do some additional research on static stretching to see if there are any others you would like to incorporate into your warm up routine.  I wouldn't do too much of this type of stretching before running, I believe four or five static stretches is enough. 

Stretching Before Running - Ballistic
Ballistic stretching uses bouncing movements to gain momentum, which stretches your muscles to extend their current range of motion.  Basically, you're bouncing into or out of a stretched position.  The goal is to increase your range of motion.  These stretches can be dangerous, so proceed with caution.  From my personal experiences, most people don't do ballistic stretching before running.

Ballistic Stretches

Toe Touches
-Stand with your feet close together.
-Extend your arms so they're straight out in front of you.
-Bend at your waist and try to touch your toes.
-Repeatedly bounce up and down, trying to touch your toes with your hands.

Upper Body Stretch
-Gradually bounce up and down, while swinging your arms across your body, like you're hugging yourself.
-Think of a swimmer before they get into the pool, or a boxer before they step into the ring.

 Specifically for runners, I would do a 5-10 minute warm up jog, followed by a mixture of dynamic and static stretching before running. You can include some ballistic stretching, but those movements are considered more dangerous than the other types of stretching.  Also, even if you're just going for a run, it's important to stretch both your upper and lower body muscles.  Running is an exercise that uses your entire body, so make sure your entire body is warmed up and ready to go!