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To Stretch or Not To Stretch?

September 15, 2010

By Jillian Shaw

A recent study found that distance runners who stretch before running may not be able to run as far – and yet spend more energy doing it.

“Our results suggest that stretching before an endurance event may lower endurance performance and increase the energy cost of running,” write Jacob M. Wilson, PhD, CSCS, and colleagues of The Florida State University, Tallahassee.

The researchers had ten male collegiate runners perform a 60-minute treadmill run on two different occasions: once after stretching and once without stretching. The running distance was actually shorter without stretching. When the runners stretched, their average running distance was 3.4 percent less than when they ran without stretching.

The new results suggest that stretching before running reduces endurance while increasing energy expenditure. The differences may not seem great—on average, running distance decreased by 0.2 kilometer after stretching while energy expenditure increased by 20 calories. However, for highly trained runners, those differences are more than enough to affect competitive performance.

Building on previous studies showing negative effects on muscle strength, the new results suggest that static stretching may reduce endurance performance as well. “Therefore, static stretching should be avoided before endurance events, at least for young male endurance athletes,” Wilson and colleagues write. They call for more research to clarify how static stretching affects muscle performance, as well as to evaluate the effects of other types of stretching—particularly dynamic stretching.

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