It’s Time to Rethink Stretching

by Ryan Hudson, MD

Throughout my life, I’ve accepted the common knowledge that stretching helps prevent injuries.  It’s an idea propagated by coaches, health professionals, and even the President’s fitness test. Despite this long-held belief, research has yet to show that stretching actually prevents running injuries. In a systematic 2001 review investigating various strategies to prevent running injuries, researchers in Hong Kong evaluated a dozen studies that included more than 8,800 participants. The result? Modifying an athlete’s training schedule helps reduce injury, but surprisingly, stretching showed no benefit for injury reduction.

Admittedly, studying stretching as an injury-prevention technique is tough for research because there are so many variables that are difficult to control. People use different types of stretches, perform stretches at different times and with various frequency.

But that doesn’t mean athletes should scrap the practice entirely. Evidence shows that stretching before and after physical activity reduces the risk of muscle soreness. And there’s little doubt certain sports, such as gymnastics, demand flexibility.  And even though our flexibility is largely determined by our genetics, studies show consistent stretching can help improve almost anyone’s flexibility. That’s something that becomes increasingly important as we age because the elasticity of our tissues and range of motion in our joints diminishes.

So while the importance of stretching varies by athlete, from an injury prevention perspective, there may be better ways to prevent running injuries all together. The best option may be strength training and conditioning.

A review article published last summer in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that strength training and proprioceptive exercises (such as balance board training) provided the greatest benefit in preventing sports injuries. One of the most common injuries faced by runners stems from overuse anterior knee pain. But four strength exercises were shown to dramatically reduce those injuries. The strength exercises of isometric hip abduction, forward lunges, single-legged step downs and single-legged squats to 45° were chosen in this study because they target key muscles in the core, hip and knee that stabilize the running gait.  

The key point for any athlete is that stretching has its value. But, for injury prevention purposes, I spend my time complementing my runs with strength training.

It’s Time to Rethink Stretching

by Ryan Hudson, MD

Throughout my life, I’ve accepted the common knowledge that stretching helps prevent injuries.  It’s an idea propagated by coaches, health professionals, and even the President’s fitness test. Despite this long-held belief, research has yet to show that stretching actually prevents running injuries. In a systematic 2001 review investigating various strategies to prevent running injuries, researchers in Hong Kong evaluated a dozen studies that included more than 8,800 participants. The result? Modifying an athlete’s training schedule helps reduce injury, but surprisingly, stretching showed no benefit for injury reduction.

Admittedly, studying stretching as an injury-prevention technique is tough for research because there are so many variables that are difficult to control. People use different types of stretches, perform stretches at different times and with various frequency.

But that doesn’t mean athletes should scrap the practice entirely. Evidence shows that stretching before and after physical activity reduces the risk of muscle soreness. And there’s little doubt certain sports, such as gymnastics, demand flexibility.  And even though our flexibility is largely determined by our genetics, studies show consistent stretching can help improve almost anyone’s flexibility. That’s something that becomes increasingly important as we age because the elasticity of our tissues and range of motion in our joints diminishes.

So while the importance of stretching varies by athlete, from an injury prevention perspective, there may be better ways to prevent running injuries all together. The best option may be strength training and conditioning.

A review article published last summer in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that strength training and proprioceptive exercises (such as balance board training) provided the greatest benefit in preventing sports injuries. One of the most common injuries faced by runners stems from overuse anterior knee pain. But four strength exercises were shown to dramatically reduce those injuries. The strength exercises of isometric hip abduction, forward lunges, single-legged step downs and single-legged squats to 45° were chosen in this study because they target key muscles in the core, hip and knee that stabilize the running gait.  

The key point for any athlete is that stretching has its value. But, for injury prevention purposes, I spend my time complementing my runs with strength training.

It’s Time to Rethink Stretching

by Ryan Hudson, MD

Throughout my life, I’ve accepted the common knowledge that stretching helps prevent injuries.  It’s an idea propagated by coaches, health professionals, and even the President’s fitness test. Despite this long-held belief, research has yet to show that stretching actually prevents running injuries. In a systematic 2001 review investigating various strategies to prevent running injuries, researchers in Hong Kong evaluated a dozen studies that included more than 8,800 participants. The result? Modifying an athlete’s training schedule helps reduce injury, but surprisingly, stretching showed no benefit for injury reduction.

Admittedly, studying stretching as an injury-prevention technique is tough for research because there are so many variables that are difficult to control. People use different types of stretches, perform stretches at different times and with various frequency.

But that doesn’t mean athletes should scrap the practice entirely. Evidence shows that stretching before and after physical activity reduces the risk of muscle soreness. And there’s little doubt certain sports, such as gymnastics, demand flexibility.  And even though our flexibility is largely determined by our genetics, studies show consistent stretching can help improve almost anyone’s flexibility. That’s something that becomes increasingly important as we age because the elasticity of our tissues and range of motion in our joints diminishes.

So while the importance of stretching varies by athlete, from an injury prevention perspective, there may be better ways to prevent running injuries all together. The best option may be strength training and conditioning.

A review article published last summer in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that strength training and proprioceptive exercises (such as balance board training) provided the greatest benefit in preventing sports injuries. One of the most common injuries faced by runners stems from overuse anterior knee pain. But four strength exercises were shown to dramatically reduce those injuries. The strength exercises of isometric hip abduction, forward lunges, single-legged step downs and single-legged squats to 45° were chosen in this study because they target key muscles in the core, hip and knee that stabilize the running gait.  

The key point for any athlete is that stretching has its value. But, for injury prevention purposes, I spend my time complementing my runs with strength training.