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Stretching Before a Run: The Study continued...

Previous research by others has looked at stretching and the effects on sprinting or vertical jumping, Wilson says. "Ninety percent have found declines in performance."

He says that "ours is one of the first to look at stretching and endurance performance, and we saw decrements."

Stretching also resulted in a higher number of calories burned. When runners stretched before they ran, they burned 425 calories, on average, during the warm-up run. When they didn't stretch, they burned 405 calories, on average.

Stretching and Performance

Whether to stretch before running or not is ''an individual choice," says Ryan Lamppa, a spokesman for Running USA, which promotes the growth of the U.S. running industry. He has coached distance runners and is a runner.

"I know runners of all abilities," he says. "Some stretch on a regular basis and some don't. Many, like me, stretch after a run, when the muscles are warm and supple."

"This study reinforces what I've heard in the sport at the top end: 'You don't see a cheetah stretch before the cat goes after [its] prey.'"

"This [study] is looking at a very select group of people," says Cathy Fieseler, MD, member of the board of directors of the American Medical Athletic Association and a veteran marathoner and ultra-distance runner. A doctor in Tyler, Texas, she notes that the men studied had a low level of body fat and were regular runners. She says the finding that the pre-run stretch affected performance in high-level athletes is plausible, but she is not sure if the findings would apply to recreational or older runners.

She wonders, too, if the 16-minute stretching period made the runners more tired than the pre-run session of simply sitting, and if that may have affected performance.

The research is clear, she says, on another aspect of stretching. "There's no study that says a pre-run stretch reduces the risk of injury."

Her advice for endurance runners? She usually doesn't recommend a pre-run stretch, but she does see the value of warming up. She tells runners: "Start off easy, do a mile or two. If you are sweating, your muscles are warmed up. Then you can pick up the pace."

''The biggest thing is to start out slow."

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