If you run with a dog or watch a horse race, you’ll notice that animals don’t stretch before or after they run.
Most runners think or are told they should stretch before or after running to prevent injuries, improve performance, and alleviate soreness after a workout.
Humans are animals, just like dogs and horses. Our muscles, bones, and tendons work exactly the same way as other mammals’ muscles, bones, and tendons.
One argument used for stretching is that humans spend a lot of time sitting at a desk and therefore need to stretch to counteract all that time spent sitting. Dogs and cats also spend a lot of time on their ass and curled up sleeping, and can get right up and run without spending 10 minutes stretching first. Remarkable!
Living and coaching in Kenya, I have not seen one Kenyan runner stretch before or after a run. I have even asked them about it. “It’s rare,” I have been told.
Injuries: Stretching may reduce injuries for explosive or bouncing activities, by increasing compliance of tendons and improving their ability to absorb energy. For low-intensity activities that don’t include bouncing movements, like running, cycling, and swimming, stretching doesn’t prevent injuries.
Performance: Stretching doesn’t improve performance. You won’t run faster or longer because you bend down to touch your toes before or after you run.
Soreness: When you run faster or longer than what you’re used to, microscopic damage occurs to your muscle fibers, which is a normal part of training. In response to the muscle fiber damage, inflammation occurs as more blood travels to the site, bringing with it white blood cells to start the healing. You feel sore a day or two after a hard workout because of the damage-induced inflammation, which is called delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Stretching doesn’t make muscle fibers heal more quickly, so stretching won’t make you feel less sore.