Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Think back to the time when you were first introduced to team sports or group fitness. If we had to bet, we’d put money on the notion that your coach began your workouts by leading a stretching routine. Stretching before exercise was like childhood Golden Rule #2 (first, of course is Be Nice to Others). Though we still want you to play fair, we’re challenging you to throw the second rule out the window!
It may seem counterintuitive until you understand the real reason why experts recommend staying away from static stretching before exercise. Think of static stretching as the stretches you do while standing still: touching your toes, a standing lunge, etc…. The goal of static stretching is to increase flexibility.
Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, is stretching that involves movement. Hip swings and leg kicks are a couple of dynamic stretches. The goal of dynamic stretching is to “wake up” the muscles.
In straight-up runner-science fashion, we’ll break down the stretching explanation like this: When an runner starts exercise by static stretching, she pushes cold muscles to their limit and risks potentially pulling a muscle. Experts compare stretching cold muscles to stretching a rubber band to its limit. At its final point of expansion, a rubber band is likely to break. When that same runner uses dynamic stretching to begin a workout, she is warming up the muscles; therefore allowing them to gradually “wake up” and perform. After a run, when muscles are loose and warm, static stretching can be used to increase flexibility, which will positively impact future performance.
So, the bottom line: dynamic stretches should be used pre-run and static stretches should be used post run. Check out this video that details dynamic stretching for runners.
Video courtesy of Potomac Running Company.