Running Confession: I Was Over-Stretching

You know you’re running in South Florida when your elevation chart looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 8.36.42 PM

I think that little blip at the beginning might be my Garmin actually registering a speed bump!! Hah!

(Just FYI I ran more than 2.5 miles last night but my Garmin decided not to connect to the satellites for the first part of my run! So annoying!)

unnamed (29)

I just recently discovered a new super flat route and I love it, although it’s not exactly that much flatter than my normal route. Everything is pretty pancake like in these parts. Actually, a pancake with blueberries is probably more hilly than my normal running routes.

Oh man, my legs are gonna have a good time with the couple of “gentle” hills in Portland.

… I have no idea what a “gentle” hill even is…

When I Google image searched it the results varied widely (and scared me):

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 10.56.04 PM

I hope my daily run up over the bridge (obviously not reflected in the elevation chart above) helps!

One thing that has definitely been helping me lately is a DECREASE in stretching. 

About a week ago I watched THIS VIDEO by elite ultrarunner Sage Canaday (also the youngest to ever qualify for the Olympics in the marathon). In the video Sage talks about his post-run recovery routine, which includes about five minutes of light stretching.  

As I was scrolling through the comments I saw this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 10.19.44 PM (Sage is Vo2maxProductions.)

That comment really caught my eye because for a few weeks my right hip and calves were really tight. I have always had a post-run stretching routine that focuses on the hip-flexors and calves. As the two areas started feeling tighter I started holding the stretches longer. Despite the longer stretches my calves in particular never felt any looser.

For a while I would have to stop about a 1/2 mile into every run to stretch because my calves felt so tight I thought the skin would literally just rip in half and all of the muscles and tendons would pop out onto the ground next to me!

After seeing Sage’s comment and doing some research on over-stretching I realized I was probably causing extra problems by stretching more and holding the stretches longer.

Research out of MIT says that when you stretch you should feel some discomfort but not a burning sensation.

Well, when I was stretching my calves I felt burning, but I thought it was just because they were so tight. I thought I needed to stretch them more to get rid of the burning. I’m obviously not a doctor or a personal trainer or a running coach, but I’m pretty sure I was wrong.

I likely should have asked my coach about it to begin with, but you know I always think I know everything! : )

Anyway, for about a week now I’ve gone back to only holding the stretches for about 30 seconds each instead of ~2 minutes and my hips and calves feel great! I think the muscles have finally recovered from all the little extra micro-tears I subjected them to!

While I was doing my research on over-stretching I definitely found differing opinions. I’d love to hear what has worked best for you.

Do you stretch after every run? Or just a couple times per week? 

Do you do dynamic stretches before you run or just static stretches after? 

How long do you hold your stretches for? 

Share:

30 Comments

  1. September 17, 2014 / 4:58 am

    Oh wow interesting study! I usually stretch after a run/workout, but I probably hold the stretch for about 30 seconds (most likely due to boredom or I want to finish haha).

    • September 17, 2014 / 9:46 pm

      YES! When I was holding the stretches for longer I would get bored (even with all the burning going on)! 30 seconds just feels right!

  2. September 17, 2014 / 7:38 am

    This is really interesting! Who knew there was such a thing as TOO much stretching! I stretch after every run but mainly just my calves because they get so tight and my IT Band because I fear the day it gets too tight.

    I’m headed to South Florida for a long weekend and am excited for 0 elevation runs, wooo!

    • September 17, 2014 / 9:49 pm

      Whoo! I hope you have an awesome weekend and that you really enjoy the heck out of your 0 elevation runs!

  3. September 17, 2014 / 8:22 am

    I stretch my hip flexors, hamstrings, and IT band after a run for a total of 4-5 minutes. Not that long but gets the job done! I have been currently foam rolling for 3-4 minutes twice a day. I read that foam rolling more often but less duration each time is really good for MY current IT band woes. It is really helping!

    • September 17, 2014 / 9:51 pm

      That makes sense! I think it’s definitely an individual thing, plus I’ve heard that rolling/massaging helps more than stretching. I definitely spend time with the roller after my long runs in addition to the stretches!

  4. September 17, 2014 / 8:26 am

    Great post. Pretty sure we’re on the same tip hip and calves boat 🙁 but stretching for sure didn’t seem tl help unlike massages!

    • September 17, 2014 / 9:52 pm

      Yep! I’ve heard that massages work so much better for tight calves! I’m just really glad to be over that (for now) … hope I didn’t jinx myself there! 🙂

  5. September 17, 2014 / 9:47 am

    Awesome! I hate stretching and only do it when things are feeling pretty tight, so this just justifies my bad running habits! BTW-I am going to come run that flat course with you. Wow-my massive CO hills just do not compare.

    • September 17, 2014 / 9:55 pm

      Your CO hills and mountains would kill me off, but I bet they’re so pretty to run/hike. I would love for you to come down though! 🙂 We should organize a blogger Key West Ragnar and prior to the race everyone can come stay in Fort Lauderdale!

  6. September 17, 2014 / 9:53 am

    There are so many different opinions on this! I actually found that when I am already in pain/have a muscle injury, stretching makes it worse. Massaging the areas around the painful muscle helps more. Then once it has time to chill out a little then I add some gentle stretching and more massage back in. Glad you are figuring out what works for you!

    • September 17, 2014 / 9:56 pm

      Ah, Lisa, that makes so much sense! I bet if I started adding more stretches and for longer durations now it would have a positive effect. My calves were just in a bad spot and I was making it worse before!

  7. September 17, 2014 / 11:06 am

    Soooo I’m a bad runner and I have a confession to make:

    I don’t stretch.

    The only time I stretch is right after my long run, when I spend 5 minutes just stretching out my quads, hamstrings, and calves a little bit to ward off some of the impending tightness.

    I always feel weird saying this because most runners I know are obsessed with stretching. But I rarely do it and I seem to be doing fine. I’m secretly glad when stuff like this comes out, because I’ve always suspected that stretching is overrated. But some people swear up and down that it has helped them, so who am I to argue! 🙂

    Ironically, though, I’ve always wanted to get into yoga 😛

    • September 17, 2014 / 9:59 pm

      I love the idea of getting into yoga, too! I wish we lived near each other so we could take a class together!

      I tried to do the Runner’s World yoga videos but I found them to be a bit boring all on my own. I think I would enjoy the class environment though.

  8. September 17, 2014 / 11:50 am

    Ack, I hear you on the hills. I live in central Ohio and I will be training for a race in Lexington, KY throughout this winter. It’s hard to find hilly places but I’m determined to scope out some good spots for hill repeats. Good luck!

    As for stretching, I love me some yoga but I am really bad at stretching after a run. My calves have been a little tight so I’ve been stopping to do some calf raises and hamstring stretches after about a mile in during recent runs. I don’t hold more than about 20 seconds though, and I find that it loosens it up for comfort.

    • September 17, 2014 / 10:01 pm

      Thanks, Jess! Luckily I have a bridge I can run daily, but I wish I could find some hills to run so I could vary my course up a bit. I hope you find yourself some hills to train on!

      20 to 30 seconds seems like it’s the magic number for staying loose!

  9. September 17, 2014 / 11:57 am

    I do dynamic stretching before, and maybe spend 4 minutes total stretching after…If anything feels tight I foam roll..I hold my stretches for maybe a count of 20…I have to admit the post-run stretching is the first thing to go when pushed for time. I do walk the dogs briskly for 1/2 mile after every run, and I swear that works out a lot of the kinks and niggles.

    • September 17, 2014 / 10:04 pm

      I think you’re right! I’ve noticed whenever I give myself time to walk for a bit after I finish my run I feel better. Unfortunately I rarely ever do this since I get bored walking and just want to get home to eat/shower/etc. I should try to make more time for it since it does seem to help!

  10. Susan
    September 17, 2014 / 1:18 pm

    I was completely overstretching and my PT told me no more stretching my hamstrings, IT band or hips. They are over stretched and that is why they feel tight. I can lightly do quads, hip flexors, chest, back arms and neck. And I can foam roll all I want. Has made a very big difference in my healing process. I also do yoga 3-4x per week but have to completely modify. No forward folds with straight legs, no hamstring stretches and no pigeon pose. I have my own versions of what I do when the class does these things and it works. I can continue to go to yoga without hurting my body!

    • September 17, 2014 / 10:06 pm

      Hey Susan! That is exactly what I think was happening with my calves. I was over stretching them and they were in a perpetual state of tightness. Some moments they were more tight than others, but always tight. Since I backed down they have loosened up! Whew!

      Love your commitment to yoga 3-4x per week! I really wanted to get committed during marathon training and then got totally sidetracked. I need to find a class and pay for a card so that I am held accountable!

  11. September 17, 2014 / 3:40 pm

    That is interesting!! I do dynamic stretches before and some dynamic and static stretches after. I usually only hold my static stretches for about 30 secs — but the whole “burning sensation” being bad is a good tip. And after a long run I try to foam roll a little bit immediately after too!!

    • September 17, 2014 / 10:08 pm

      I am really bad about foam rolling. I always do it after a long run, but rarely ever after short runs. I’ve heard that it can really make a difference with more consistency. I should do it if for no other reason than I feel like it gives me a quick upper body workout, haha!

  12. September 17, 2014 / 4:04 pm

    Really interesting post Kristina! I always stretch after running but I don’t hold poses longer than 45 seconds. I have really tight calves too and the only way I’ve managed to loosen them out is by massaging them (or better, getting someone to do it for me ;)) and then by lots and lots of foam rolling – before and after I run.

    • September 17, 2014 / 10:09 pm

      I really need to get more friendly with my foam roller! Everyone seems to spend a lot more time with it than me!!

  13. September 17, 2014 / 5:25 pm

    I stretch my calves (Achilles mostly) before, during and after every run. Otherwise, no stretching!!!

    • September 17, 2014 / 10:09 pm

      Oh wow! And here I was thinking that everyone was super committed to stretching and I was slacking!

  14. September 17, 2014 / 9:40 pm

    I need to stretch more. I’m sooo bad at making myself. Good to know about the burning feeling, though. I tend to think that means it’s working! Oops!

    I died laughing that you googling gentle hills. Oh, Florida. This is totally something I would do, too.

    • September 17, 2014 / 10:11 pm

      Exactly! I thought the burn meant it was working too!

      I’m still not sure what a gentle hill is! A friend said it’s just the race director’s way of not scaring off runners who aren’t used to hills! Ah!

  15. September 18, 2014 / 12:28 pm

    I rarely stretch before or after running. Probably not the best, but I just don’t think to do it until I am foam rolling or feeling really tight. I can not believe how flat it is in Florida. There will definitely be a couple “hilly” areas in Portland. I read that the total elevation gain is around 800ft and that the two big hills are at miles 2-3 and miles 17-18. At least it ends with a nice downhill back into downtown. Can’t wait!!!

  16. September 18, 2014 / 9:11 pm

    Very Interesting! I am a fan of stretching and holding my stretches for about minute. I have a handful I always do. If I skip stretching I an be very sore even after a short run. Sometimes when I feel over fatigued I will do a short routine of leg lifts, sit-ups- and stretch in between each set. It can take almost 30 minutes to finish. I usually feel fabulous after doing this the next day 🙂