5 Reasons Why Some Runners Avoid Stretching & Why You Shouldn’t
Runners and stretching. Some say ‘yes’, some say ‘no’, some ‘maybe’. For some it works, some believe it doesn’t work for them, some don’t care either way and do it whenever, if ever, they feel like it.
Some preach the benefits, some get injured due to the lack of stretching but never attribute it to that, or maybe they stretch for a week or so after the physio scares them and the moment they feel better they ditch stretching again.
Some say we should do dynamic stretches before the run, and static stretches after the run, but some argue that pre-run stretches aren’t that important and even static stretches shouldn’t be done often.
Then somebody you know gets hurt when stretching which solidifies your anti-stretching stance. But then you realise that another guy who you also know walks like a superman, with an effortless ease and grace and he stretches all the time!
The debate and uncertainty over the necessity of stretching then gets even more confusing.
With all that in mind, it’s easy to see why some simply skip stretching. I don’t but I do understand why some do.
Here is what I believe to be the main 5 reasons why some runners avoid stretching.
Reason No 1: I can’t see the benefits of stretching
This is the excuse often coming from the sceptics as well as the impatient camps.
Well, unlike getting a trendy haircut, trimming the moustache or shaving the legs, you don’t see the immediate benefits of stretching, I do agree.
‘The Sceptics’ will question everything and won’t be swayed until you prove them wrong. They’ll dismiss your arguments right off the bat and it will only take a bad injury followed by a conversation with a physio who they really can trust for them to start seeing cracks in their beliefs.
‘Those who are not patient’ will simply want to see the positive results of stretching here and now. ‘What do you mean by trying for 10 months before I can move my hips that way? No way! I’m perfectly fine the way I am!’. That is until their first paid visit to a sports physio with a painful thigh that stops them from such trivial tasks like focusing at work, eating, sleeping and walking, to list just a few less important ones.
The message: In my experience stretching has improved my flexibility, it often prevents stiffness in my muscles, helps me with injury and pain, gives me better range of motion, decreases delayed-onset muscle soreness and offers the relief from cramping. I think this all sounds pretty alright?
Reason No 2 why some runners avoid stretching: Stretching is for pros, I’m not a pro
See, pro racing drivers are much better than us at negotiating tight corners at high velocity but we still share and do very similar things, albeit on different levels.
It’s the same with running.
Yes, the pros stretch. And they do it often and the exercises that they do are put together according to what they do – what type of running they do, what type of runners they are and how their bodies are.
And many of those exercises are exactly the same as the ones that a naive middle aged amateur runner (like me) can be seen displaying in the park. And we are doing them for the same reason. Looking after our bodies.
For example, running with cold muscles can lead to injuries. As simple as. If you can’t warm up in your room before a cold weather run then dress appropriately and add walking, strides, as well as leg swings & lunges (dynamic stretching) into your pre-run routine.
I once decided to play it cool and went out (I was a newbie, forgive me) in 2C winter weather with a sharp northerly wind, wearing just my shorts and a top. No warm up. Within several minutes I suffered a bad cramp in my back, barely being able to walk back to my car. Couldn’t run for three weeks.
I now stretch in order to be able to run for longer, both in terms of mileage and years. Stiff leg heading to an IT band injury means months of frustration, or even quitting running. Relaxed thigh muscles, well looked after, will carry you through for a long while.
The message: Whether an amateur or a seasoned pro, young or not so young any more, we all share one wish. We want to be healthy and fit for as long as we can. And part of that game is loosening up the muscles that we will use when burning rubber on the road, trying to recover afterwards and alleviate stiffness, lengthen the muscles and maintain the range of motion. You want to be able to walk stronger and taller when old. That’s the idea.
Reason No 3: Stretching is time consuming, life’s too short
Being in a park after a fulfilling run should not be something that we are keen to cut short.
Stretching, if done on a basic yet beneficial level, is not time consuming.
I read about people struggling to run those first minutes, fighting for breath, thinking of walking instead. Do you know why? They. Have. Not. Warmed. Up. Properly.
If you do 5-10 short minutes of dynamic warm up, you’ll be guaranteed to enjoy your run more, especially if it’s cold out there. After the run, if you aim to do, say, 10 simple stretches at 30 seconds each, you have ‘wasted’ around 5 or so minutes of your precious time. Time that would benefit your body. Time well invested.
The message: If you really want to enjoy your running and carry on as long as possible, then you need to work on it a bit more.
Yes, life is relatively short but running is one part of it that makes it worthwhile.
Before you go out in the evening you spend lots of time getting ready to be beautiful. Why? Grooming is ‘time consuming, life’s too short’.
Think about it.
After all, you don’t have to run at all, but if you do want to run, stretching for a few minutes will make a positive difference.
Reason No 4: Stretching is boring
If you aim to do something because you are convinced that it’s useless and boring and you are only doing it because somebody tried to convince you, or you’ve read this article and you got a 3 minute guilt trip, it WILL be as boring as a dull rainy day.
If your mind is already set that way it will take a big effort to feel positive about it. Unless you realise the benefits you can achieve.
Only you can do it.
Remember the old running mantra, ‘Listen to your body’? This is the same. Bring your awareness to the parts of your body that you are stretching. Work on them with some meaning and purpose. If you are bored while doing running stretches, or anything else, it won’t work. Feel those areas. Don’t rush. Relax.
The idea is that you are making those body parts better.
The message: The most enjoyable part of the running game is the actual run. But in order to make the run more enjoyable we need to raise the game in other aspects of the process – hydration, rest, eating habits, proper running gear, aaand (drum roll, please) – stretching.
If you compare two runs, one where you went out in bad shoes after a big meal, totally dehydrated, tired after work, and never stretched in your life – with the run where all those pre-run boxes were correctly ticked off, you will notice a remarkable difference.
And, in fairness, it takes very little time to get it all right, boring or not.
Reason No 5: I stretch occasionally, that’s enough for me
Ok, this could occasionally be fine. This could be one of the valid reasons why some runners avoid stretching. Because there are occasions and circumstances in which it is okay to skip stretches – sometimes it works if you do it when you are getting stiffer and you just know how to work those muscles.
If I’m going out in very hot and humid weather, I won’t need to spend 10 minutes doing dynamic warm ups. I am already hot and sweating. After the run I can relax in the shower/bath/sea and the muscles will like that too.
The key is to listen and understand your body.
Those who stretch periodically usually have a very good idea about what’s needed and how, in order to relax those muscles. They will feel their body and feel the warning signals.
We are all different. Some of us are more flexible and need less work to achieve good results, some need to push it a bit harder.
Balance through experience is a skill that we learn along the way.
The message: If you decide not to stretch often, you should simply know and understand your body really well. You will know what is needed and when it is needed. You will be almost totally certain about what’s causing that ‘ping’ of discomfort in the ball of your foot or on the side of your right hip. You will know how and when to address it.
Until then? Stretch often.
Many new runners lose their enthusiasm and quit running, some quite soon. Many blame injuries and think running ‘is not for them’. Injuries aren’t picky, they can strike anyone, and do strike many, but we need to do all we can to avoid them and stretching exercises are one of the ways. Find the ones that you enjoy doing, and give it a go, if you’re already not a seasoned ‘stretcher’ like me. You can and will gain more than you expected.
I hope that sharing my story, and what I have learned along this journey, will inspire you to get started and to keep going. To keep striving and being the best you can be. In running and in life.
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