"If you’ve raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in thickets by the Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5). Our journey is intended to be more than simply "stumbling" through the days while the world "wears us out.” We are made to experience the thrill of "running with horses” and to navigate life amongst the "thickets." The RWH blog focuses on both the spiritual race of which Jeremiah speaks, and the physical act of running that I absolutely love. In short, it's where "the miles meet the Message" to provide insight, perspective & encouragement that might enable you & I to successfully run either of the races set before us. May our course be purposeful and may we be passionate in our pursuit of the abundant life He desires for us.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"To stretch or not to stretch? That is the question."

I have never been one to spend a great deal of time stretching.  My extreme lack of flexibility, coupled with a history of painful hamstring and groin pulls, is certainly evidence to this point.  To me, it’s really a lot like flossing your teeth.  You know it’s good for you, and like that two week period of full compliance following the dentist visit, recovery from a muscle strain includes a commitment to make stretching a daily ritual.  Yeah, right.  For all of two or three weeks.

However, as I have gotten a little older and have attempted to “listen to my body” while training, I have made an effort to stretch out just a little before and after I run, along with adding some flexibility exercises during cross training days.  I will likely never touch my toes with both hands, but one hand is becoming quite possible.  I have also found that a few specific stretches, primarily calf raises and hamstring lunges, seem to keep certain pesky little injuries away.  Or at least I thought they did ..............

A new study, just released this week, has added fuel to the already burning debate on whether runners should bother with any amount of stretching before they run.  For years, runners could spend half an hour limbering up and stretching every muscle in the body.  But over the last decade, a widely accepted approach maintained that stretching just a little is ok. It is considered better to replace stretching with some pre-run jogging to loosen up, and then stretch after the run, if at all.  This study is summarized below:

* 2,729 runners, who regularly log 10+ miles per week, were broken up into two groups. The first group performed 3-5 minutes of stretching for each muscle group (about 20 minutes total) before every run.  Group #2 performed NO stretching and immediately began running.

* At the end of the trial period, both groups had achieved exactly the same number of injuries; 16% (an injury was anything that  prevented running for at least one week).

* Regular stretchers, prior to the trial, who ended up in the non-stretching trial group, had a 40% chance of injury.  While those that didn’t stretch (yours truly), prior to the trial, who ended up in the stretch group, had a 30% chance of injury.  Both greater than the overall 16% rate.

In short, as it relates to pre-run stretching, keep doing what you have been doing.  It seems that any change can increase your risk for injury. According to one of the researchers, “It’s kind of wacky -- I don’t really know what to make of it.  You get used to your routine and if you change it, you’re more likely to get injured.”  (Daniel Pereles - GWU).  Of course it’s “wacky”, as runners we are described in that manner all the time.

So, the moral of the story is that I guess I will just keep my stretching to a minimum, and not implement anything new.  But, I will start flossing more, I promise!

Click here for the full REUTERS story!


  1. I am a non stretcher. I prefer to warm up running slowly. Usually my first mile is about 45 seconds slower than my normal easy pace. I have purchased and use, although not regularly like I would like to, a foam roller. A few nights of rolling my legs can make a huge difference in my flexibility while running.

  2. Paul, thanks for the comment. I couldn’t recall how much effort you usually put in pre-run stretch, although I seem to remember it was more about the coffee and less about the stretching! Just kidding. I have heard a lot of good comments regarding the foam rollers. I think I will probably get one for the next training cycle and see what happens.

  3. i'm weird in that i usually just like to dive right in, even if i have been inactive for a couple of years. in my 27 years, i've sustained only injuries from direct contact.
    i also love to floss. maybe that's even weirder.