Stretching muscles is optimum for muscle recovery and to keep you injury-free. But a new study suggests that for runners, stretching beforehand does not necessarily make a difference. The study was presented this week at the 2011 annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. It was conducted by Dr. Daniel Pereles from George Washington University. The study looked at 2,729 volunteers, who were recruited online. All of the participants were at least 13 years old and all usually ran at least 10 miles per week. Their findings were that both groups reported injury rates of 16 percent; therefore concluding that it made no difference whether or not you stretch before a run.
What the study did find was that those who were used to stretching and who were put in the non-stretching group reported more injuries and vice-versa. Those in the stretching group who usually just hit the road or trail without taking time to stretch also reported more injuries.
Pereles called his findings “wacky,” stating, "You get used to your routine and if you change it, you're more likely to get injured. And the rate of injury was quite high overall, one in every six people, so running is a pretty tough sport."
A prior study conducted by a team at the University of Sydney also looked at stretching before a workout and whether or not it made a difference in muscle soreness. The study found that stretching beforehand could create more “pliable” muscles, which could put you more at-risk for strains and potentially cause tiny tears in muscle fibers.
Here is my advice on whether or not to stretch: I have always told my clients to warm-up their body with some light cardiovascular activity prior to stretching. This is so you do not stretch a cold muscle. The study reiterates this by saying that you are sending your muscles a cue to contract than relax, which is the complete opposite of what you need prior to your run, bike ride, hike, etc.
Most experts feel that it would be more beneficial for leisure athletes to warm-up rather than stretch. I half agree and will still recommend that my clients stretch, but only after they warm-up first.