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Is Static Stretching Bad for Distance Runners? Both Sides Of The Argument

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

If you’re like most of my coaching clients, you’re probably thoroughly confused about whether static stretching is good or bad for you.

In this article, I’ll look at what static stretching is, the arguments for and against it, and finally, answer the question of whether you should be doing static stretches.

A women on the floor doing a static stretch

What is Static Stretching?

Static stretching is a type of stretching in which you hold a stretch position for a period of time, usually 30 seconds or longer, and is often used to improve flexibility and range of motion. The idea behind static stretching is to lengthen the muscle to the point of tension and hold it in that position to increase flexibility.

What Research Says About Static Stretching

This is where things get confusing. Some studies have found that static stretching can help improve running performance and help reduce the risk of injury by improving flexibility and muscle balance.

While other studies have suggested that static stretching may not be as effective at improving running performance as previously thought and actually decrease muscle strength and power, potentially negatively affecting running performance.

It is also possible that the effects of static stretching on muscle strength and power may depend on the specific muscles being stretched, the duration and intensity of the stretch, and the individual characteristics of the person performing the stretch.

Ok, so is static stretching good or bad? Let’s take a deeper look at both sides of the argument.

A women outside holding a static stretch

The Argument Against Static Stretching

The overarching theory is that static stretching may decrease muscle strength and power. One theory is that it can cause changes in the muscle fibers that can affect muscle contractility and power output. Another theory is that static stretching may cause a decrease in neural activation of the muscles, which can also lead to a reduction in muscle strength and power.

For high-power athletes such as sprinters, all these changes can be detrimental. But what about the average person training for a ½ marathon and a marathon where muscular endurance is more important than peak power?

The Argument For Static Stretching

Some studies have found that static stretching can potentially improve range of motion in a joint. Range of motion (ROM) measures the movement of a joint or series of joints in the body.

It is important for runners to have a good range of motion in their joints because it allows them to move more efficiently and with less risk of injury. A runner with limited range of motion in a joint can lead to muscle imbalances, which can cause problems such as muscle strains, tendinitis, and even stress fractures.

By improving their range of motion, runners can improve their stride length, reduce energy expenditure, and decrease their risk of injury. Additionally, a good range of motion in the joints can help to prevent muscle stiffness and soreness after running.

A runner stretching his calf

Is Static Stretching Good or Bad For Me, Then?

The bottom line is it depends. More research is needed to fully understand the potential effects of static stretching on running performance. Still, it appears we can deduce a few conclusions on the effectiveness of static stretching.

First, static stretching isn’t for everyone. Some individuals will benefit, while others may not. Generally speaking, I recommend static stretching for recreational runners with range of motion limitations. Combined with dynamic stretching and drills, static stretching can effectively improve stride length, reduce energy expenditure, and decrease the risk of injury.

Static Stretching Guidelines

  • Those with a poor range of motion may benefit greater from static stretching.

  • Keep static holds under 60 seconds.

  • Static stretching is best performed as part of a warm-up and cool-down routine that incorporates other mechanisms to increase range of motion, such as dynamic stretching and drills.

  • Static stretching should be done regularly. Infrequent static stretching may induce negative effects.

  • High-performance runners and sprinters should approach static stretching with caution.

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