The Bullshit Report

Pre and Post-Run Stretching

WELCOME TO EARTH: Fartlek Training

This is The Bullshit Report, the angry little corner of POSSESSED magazine where we attack and debunk some outrageous, long-held myth from the world of running. 

This month, we’re dragging ‘stretching’ into the crosshairs because, as it turns out, you don’t actually need to stretch. That was a joke. Of course, you need fucking stretch, you lunatic. Unless you like pain and discomfort, then by all means never ever stretch. Hell, jam a pocketknife into your leg and slam your balls in a kitchen drawer. What do we care? For those of you who do wish to stretch—and want to know what is true and untrue about the practice—read on.

Note: if you’re a seasoned runner reading this, stop reading immediately. You already know about stretching. But with this being the ‘Firsts’ issue, there’s bound to be some inexperienced newcomers in the audience, and this is for them. Hello, you flabby, gasping, self-loathing weaklings. Welcome to running.

Over the years, there’s been an enormous amount of debate around whether you should stretch pre or post run. First, let’s be clear about the two types of stretching one can... stretch: there’s static, and then there’s dynamic. A static stretch is one where you remain still or, to use another adjective, static. A dynamic stretch involves movement. These are both recommended, but which stretch do you do when? Again, if you’re a seasoned runner, you know the answer and you should’ve stopped reading by now. What are you doing? Waiting for me to fuck up and saying something erroneous so you can correct me via email? Go ahead, jerk-off. Just know that everyone who writes in to say what a great job I’m doing gets a free sticker and a lock of Stian’s hair. 

So, there’s static and dynamic stretches. An example of a static stretch would be the one where you stand on one leg and pull the other up behind you to stretch your quads (Standing Quadricep Stretch—by the way, don’t hold your foot with that one, hold your leg near the ankle; if you hold your foot, you risk damaging your ankle). A dynamic stretch example: that one where you hold a signpost and swing your leg back and forth like you’re kicking testicles on a production line (Leg Swings). Now, here’s the thing. I keep seeing new runners doing static stretching before a run. I can tell it’s pre-run because they’re not red-of-face, sweat-drenched, and utterly defeated. I don’t know who’s telling them to do static stretches before a run, but here’s why they shouldn’t.

Before a run—or any physical activity—your muscles are cold, and static stretching cold muscles is a bad idea for a number of reasons. Firstly, you’re fatiguing the muscles before they’ve even done anything. Static stretching before a run decrease muscle strength and speed, which will make you feel tired before you’ve even set off. Static stretching before your run can also increase the risk of injury because your cold, stretched muscles will contract after you’ve forced them to lengthen, and they’ll have even less elasticity than if you hadn’t stretched at all. Static stretching doesn’t warm up the muscles; it’s like taking a baguette out of the freezer and trying to bend it in two. Snap! Dynamic stretches are like bending a baguette that just came out of the oven (not really, but isn't it nice to think about fresh bread).

So, do your dynamic stretches before a run. Warm up your muscles with movement and send them the message that some shit is about to go down so they better be ready (you can look up dynamic stretches on the internet). But when should you do static stretches? Well, duh—after your run. Why though? Your muscles are already warmed up. Why stretch them now? Why? Why? How come? Why?

Stretching after a run allows blood to flush through the muscles, washing out lactic acid (the chemical your body produces to breakdown carbs for energy) and repair the damage (muscles tear when you work ‘em out; that’s what makes ‘em stronger). If you don’t stretch after a run, blood flow will be limited and you will become a hell of a lot tighter and sorer, and your muscles may become imbalanced and mess with your posture, causing you to have less than optimal running form, which will lead to more problems down the proverbial and literal track. Static stretching before a run: Don’t do it.

This has been The Bullshit Report.