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It used to be that all runners stretched before they ran, and then there was a big debate. So now a lot of runners don’t stretch. If you’re a beginning runner, what is the answer: should you stretch before you run?

No, if you are not going to stretch correctly. Improper stretching is the second leading cause of running injuries to both runners who do not stretch very much and to those who spend an inordinate amount of time. Studies have shown that morning runners become injured more often than noontime and evening runners, which suggests that it is dangerous to stretch cold muscles. It is hard to stretch muscles that are not loosened and warmed up and you take the risk of tearing a muscle. A thorough warm-up before stretching, or postponing stretching till later in the day, may reduce the risk of injury. Be very gentle when stretching prior to a run. If you have had achilles tendonitis or tight calf muscles, you might find it helpful to stretch about 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile into your run. The muscles will have warmed up and will be better prepared to be stretched. You also have to be careful about how you stretch. You should never bounce while stretching because you could tear or pull the muscle you are trying to stretch. Also avoid stretching too quickly, as the muscle will respond with a strong contraction and increase tension. Do not stretch beyond the point where you begin to feel tightness in the muscle, do not push through muscle resistance, and never stretch to the point of discomfort or pain.

So now that you know how not to stretch, how DO you stretch? Well, first of all you should know the benefits of stretching. Many experts agree that stretching reduces muscle soreness after running and results in better athletic performance. Gentle stretching after a race or intense workout can also promote healing and lactic acid removal from the muscles. Stretching is most effective when performed several times each week; a minimum of one stretching session per week is sufficient to maintain flexibility. A predominance of coaches and runners believe in stretching before and after every workout. Thus, a typical workout starts with a 10- to 20-minute warm-up, followed by 10-20 minutes of stretching, the main course, a post-workout stretch and a warm-down jog.

Always remember to stretch slowly in order to avoid the contraction reflex. By doing so, muscle tension falls, and you may stretch the muscle further. Hold the stretch for 30 to 40 seconds. You should try to build stretching into your regular schedule both before and after your daily run. A good program should include stretches for the calves, shins, hips, buttocks and thighs.