Go through the list of things in your head that you do before you take off for a run. You might pick out your favorite running shoes, set up your fitness tracker, choose a playlist, and maybe even do a few stretches to warm up the body. But Michael Olzinski, MSc, Purplepatch endurance coach and Equinox run coach, says that small period of stretching you do is probably ruining your entire run. Mind blowing, right? Here's what Mike has to say.
"Research has chronically shown that static stretching prior to fast, dynamic exercise (i.e. running) causes slight impairments that can lead to injury and reduce performance when compared to dynamic stretching," he told POPSUGAR. You might think you're warming up your thighs by doing a nice, long quad stretch, but this could be the very thing that sets you up for injury — or at the very least, an unsatisfying workout.
Mike explains that the whole point of a warmup is to "have some slight aerobic component to move blood around the needed muscles, and also some type of large movements to activate and prepare the needed muscles for the workout." You want to get your muscles and cardiovascular system ready for the demands of running, not prevent yourself from reaching your goals.
"Static stretching does not affect the heart rate or start to increase circulation," Mike said, citing a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. "It also puts small tears or strains on the affected muscles, which will initiate the inflammation response, which then in turn will lead to greater pain and can lead to injury."
There's one stretch in particular that Mike sees runners doing all the time, and it hurts his little heart to witness it. "The worst possible stretch to do before a run — and also the most common one that I see — is the typical curb stretch for your calf and Achilles," he said. "I can tell you that if you feel calf or Achilles pain when you run, doing this stretch prior to running will almost certainly make it worse long-term."
The Achilles tendon is vital to any and all movement, especially running, and "it is also very limited in actual blood flow and can be sensitive." If you try to stretch out your Achilles with no blood flow happening in that part of the body, "it will add some tears to that tendon just before you go and add consistent pressure on it from your run." Mike puts it eloquently when he says, "You are pretty much pouring gasoline on a fire."
OK, so what should you be doing before a run? "Instead of these damaging and ineffective static stretches pre-workout, we should learn and integrate some movements with large and dynamic ranges of motion, while starting to stimulate the cardiopulmonary system," Mike advised.
Here's what that means in English: do dynamic warmup exercises that will activate your muscles and get the blood flowing, like jumping jacks or jump rope for your calves, and big leg swings or high knees for your hamstrings. Mike says you can even replace your "damaging standing quad stretch" with some donkey kicks or butt-kickers.
At the end of the day, think of it this way. "There is nothing that is static about running whatsoever," so there's nothing that static stretching has to offer you before you go for a run. This principle can be applied to just about any cardio workout you're about to engage in, in fact, from cycling to a HIIT circuit to dancing. If it's not a static activity, don't use static stretches to prepare for it.
"Static stretching has lots of very serious and important uses that can be beneficial to your body and mind," Mike added in conclusion. But those benefits won't come to you if you do a long calf stretch before a run.