For runners in particular, the benefits of stretching have been a hotly debated topic. There is recent evidence suggesting that stretching before a race does not decrease your risk of injury. With that being said, the body does need to warm up before racing help to prepare the muscles that are being used for the run. There are two types of stretches you can use to warm up muscles: static stretches and dynamic stretches.
Static stretching refers to lengthening a muscle or muscles while staying in one position (for example, the usual quad, hamstring, or hip flexor stretch). Static stretching before a race is not the best use of your time. At that point, you want to focus on warming up the muscles that your body will be using for the race—this is where the idea of dynamic stretching comes into play. After a race is a better time to perform static stretching, and even foam rolling, to help you recover.
Dynamic stretching involves getting the body moving in the same or similar positions that it will be stressed during the race. These can include jogging or drills. If you ever ran track and field or cross-country, these drills may be familiar—they include but are not limited to:
1. High knees: forward jogging while alternating quick movements of bringing your knees to your chest.
2. Butt kicks: forward jogging while alternating quick movements of kicking your butt with your heels.
There definitely is a point where you can overdo the stretching, especially before a race. Remember that what works for someone else may not necessarily work for you. Try to figure out a stretching routine that best fits your needs and start incorporating it into your workouts so your body gets used to the stretching before race day.
Varsha Seemangal, PT, DPT, MST, USATF-L1, RRCA is a physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Rehabilitation Department. She received her doctorate in physical therapy from Columbia University. Seemangal is a lifelong runner and has completed two marathons, several half-marathons and many 5K races. Her clinical interests include sports-related injuries and how they relate to musculoskeletal care.