Should You Stretch Before or After You Warm Up?

Small group of runners warming up, New York City, USA
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If you are a runner who likes to stretch before you run, you should always warm up before you stretch. It's a bad idea to stretch cold muscles. If your muscles aren't loosened up before you stretch, you're more at risk for pulling them. However, research has not shown any benefits of stretching before running, so you could also consider simply skipping the stretching portion of your warmup.

A warmup is important because it dilates your blood vessels, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen. It also raises your muscles' temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency. By slowly raising your heart rate, the warmup also helps minimize stress on your heart when you start your run.

How to Do a Proper Warmup for Running

Do about five to 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise to loosen up your muscles and warm you up for your run. Try walking briskly, jogging slowly, or cycling on a stationary bike. Make sure you don't rush your warmup.

You can also do some dynamic stretches or exercises to get your muscles warm and ready to go. Walking lunges, jumping jacks, front kick opposite toe touches, and opposite toe touches (bending at the waist) are some good ones to do. As opposed to static stretching, some research suggests these moves may prepare your body better for running.

Stretching Tips

Once you're warmed up, you can stretch any area that feels tight, but it's not really necessary to stretch before you start running. Research has not shown that stretching before running reduces the risk of injury or muscle soreness after your run. Stretching before running has even been shown to impair the performance of well-trained runners at the very beginning of their run.

If you feel tight or a muscle cramp coming on during the run, it's fine to stop and stretch.

The best time to stretch is at the end of your run or as a separate activity apart from running. Here are some basic tips for your stretches:

  • Don't bounce while stretching. Hold still on each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
  • Don't stretch through pain or beyond the point where you begin to feel tightness in the muscle. You shouldn't push through muscle resistance and never stretch to the point of pain. As you feel less tension, you can increase the stretch a bit more until you feel the same slight pull.
  • Make sure you stretch both sides. Don't just stretch your left calf because you feel tightness on that side. Ignoring one side could lead to tightness in that area, so be careful to stretch both sides equally.
  • Don't hold your breath. Stay relaxed and breathe in and out slowly. Take deep belly breaths.
  • Post-run is also a great time to use a foam roller to roll out any tight areas, such as your quads, hamstrings, calves, and IT bands.
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Article Sources
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  • Yamaguchi T, Takizawa K, Shibata K. Acute Effect of Dynamic Stretching on Endurance Running Performance in Well-Trained Male Runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2015;29(11):3045-3052. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000000969.