Exercise Science Expert Explains Why It's So Important To Stretch After A Run - Exclusive

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body and overall health. This is because physical activity is linked to many important health and fitness benefits (via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Not only can working out and being physically active improve your mood and cognitive function, but it can also help tone your muscles, strengthen your bones, and manage your weight. Furthermore, it can improve your balance and mobility, and reduce your risk of disease and chronic illness.

As it turns out, however, stretching can be just as important as working out. As a matter of fact, stretching is an essential part of any good fitness routine. In an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Joe McConkey, a USATF level III Endurance and World Athletics Level V Coach, co-founder of Boston Running Center, and the author of "Pliability for Runners," discussed the benefits of stretching after a run or intense workout.

The benefits of stretching after a run

According to McConkey, there are many important fitness benefits associated with post-run stretching. "Stretching after a run can increase your range of motion, which can then result in an increased stride length and improved performance," McConkey says. "It can also prevent injuries by improving muscle stiffness and by helping you notice asymmetrical tensions that need more attention prior to your next run." In addition, stretching is a great way to help prevent muscle soreness the day after a workout and calm the neural system in your legs.

As it turns out, stretching after a run or workout might be the best time to stretch, McConkey says. That's because running can help warm up your muscles, making them more pliable and malleable. Stretching while your muscles are still cold, however, can actually increase your risk of injury. That's why it's important to remember to warm up beforehand.

The risks of not stretching after a run

Failing to stretch after a run can potentially have a negative impact on your body and physical health. For instance, not taking the time to stretch after a run or intense workout can actually increase your risk of injury. "Without doing a post-run stretch the chance of injury increases with your next run, as the resulting muscle stiffness is a leading precursor to muscle strain," McConkey explains.

Not stretching after a run can also lead to muscle fatigue. "Soreness and a general feeling of fatigue in the legs [are] also more likely to occur [in] those who do not habitually stretch post-run," McConkey adds. Not stretching can hinder your athletic performance as well. If you're an avid runner who doesn't stretch, but never gets injured, you may still experience a limited range of speed. This can potentially impair your athletic performance and make it difficult for your race performance to noticeably improve.

The most effective post-run stretches

When it comes to post-run stretches, it's best to stick to static stretching, McConkey says. "You've already put the legs through plenty of dynamic, and perhaps ballistic stretching with your workout, so doing these again post-run may end up being too much and can lead to injury," McConkey shares. "Light static stretching of the key areas (quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves) with various positions is all that is needed."

This can include traditional static stretching, which involves using your arms or hips to stretch, or Active-Isolated Stretching (AIS). "For example, while lying on your back, lift one leg straight up as close to perpendicular as possible," McConkey says. "Then, contract the quadricep to straighten and stiffen the leg even more, all while still trying to keep the leg perpendicular." He notes that you should feel this stretch in your hamstrings. The concept can also be applied to any other muscle in the lower body.

How to get the most out of post-run stretching

If you want to get the most out of post-run stretching, you need to make sure that you're stretching long enough without overdoing it. According to McConkey, you can reap the full benefits of post-run stretching by following the science. "Studies have shown that 1 to 2 sets of 30-second holds provide the same improvement as doing 4 sets of 30 seconds and as doing 1 to 2 sets of 90-second holds," McConkey explains. "In general, you just need 5 to 6 minutes of post-run stretching to get the full benefits." 

As much as it's beneficial to take the time to stretch after a run, it's also important not to stretch for too long. Believe it or not, excessive stretching can actually weaken your muscles by altering your muscles' length-tension relationship. That's why it's best to focus on quality rather than quantity.

To learn more about Joe McConkey, visit Bostonrunningcenter.com or get his book, "Pliability for Runners," on Amazon.