The Run Smarter Series

Why stretching does not help tight muscles

Muscle tightness is a common situation for runners. They stretch and foam roll, which MIGHT offer short term relief but quickly returns after the next run. With runners desperate for an explanation and a solution, I thought I would share my thoughts.

The muscle tightness ‘perception’

Firstly, it is in my opinion that the ‘perception’ of tightness is mostly muscle soreness or muscle fatigue. I remember when I started running my calves felt like they were going to explode. After a run I would stretch and hobble around the house for 2 days until they felt okay to run again. I interpreted this as tightness because when I went to stretch the muscle it would feel sore and would offer relief (for about 5-10 minutes). But in reality, this wasn’t muscle tightness. This was the response to my muscles being put through an endurance-based task it was not accustomed to. And after a few months my calves had ‘adapted’ and all the ‘tightness’ went away. Even without stretching.

Is stretching the answer?

Those who have read my previous blogs will see that static stretching doesn’t provide much for muscle recovery (along with foam rollers & massage balls), and because running doesn’t require a lot of ‘flexibility’ there are very few runners who actually need to stretch in order to achieve correct running bio-mechanics.

What is the solution?

So back to the ‘perception’ of muscle tightness. If you feel you are hobbling around after running and waking up the next day feeling 80 years old here are my suggestions:

  1. Enhance your recovery: Adequate sleepnutrition & overall well-being to help muscle recovery.
  2. Rest days: Make sure you are taking enough rest days based on your body’s individual recovery needs. Also, keep in mind that as you get older, your body needs more time to recover.
  3. Consider lowering your overall intensity: Generically, 80% of your training should be easy running. Find the ratio that allows you to recover and thrive during the hard sessions.
  4. Patience: Just like my calves, allow the body time to adapt for the power and endurance.

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