Static stretching before a run is not the best way to warm up. Start by walking and jogging slowly to gradually warm up the muscles and increase your heart rate.
Stretching is one of those simple things that is often done badly (some argue that you don't need it at all), so I went to two established fitness experts to get an answer to this reader's question:
Q: I'm a jogger for many years who was recently told by a varsity college runner that her coach said it was not necessary to stretch before running. Is this correct? I'm talking about pre-jogging stretching occurring after a warm-up walk of a few minutes.
A: From Peter Shmock, owner of Zum Health Club in Seattle:
Your friend's coach is right on the mark. The way most people stretch prior to running -- a brief tug on their leg, pulling it up toward their fanny or leaning against a tree to supposedly stretch your calf muscles and Achilles -- does little if anything to prepare for a run or reduce the chance for injury.
The best way to prepare to run is to progressively warm up, with the key word being "progressively." By warming up I don't mean doing a static stretch for five minutes, I mean slowly getting into your body by moving.
Moving all your limbs in a gradual manner that increases your heart rate and gets your joints feeling loosened is great preparation to run. The more specific these movements are to running the better the warm up. Walking is a great warm up.
What I recommend and what I do myself: While walking, start swinging your arms in a more exaggerated motion, lengthen your stride a bit and bring your knees up higher. Then start walking normally but faster. Then break into a slow jog. Go back and forth between walking and jogging for the first five minutes and increase your pace as ready.
The secret to successful, injury-free and fun training that the great athletes possess is that they always pay attention to how their body feels and make adjustments along the way. If you're running along and feel tight or low energy, slow down or walk. There's no rule that says once you start you can't stop, and if you do, you've failed.
A: From Rick Huegli, sports performance director of Velocity Sports Performance in Seattle:
From the college coaches' perspective, an appropriate warm up is what is necessary to prepare the muscles for the workout. The goal is to raise core and muscle temperature and improve coordination for the specifics of the workout. Dynamic movement or progressive low-intensity running will increase core and muscle temperature and improve neuromuscular (coordination) and movement function.
The objective of static stretching usually is to increase the range of motion at a joint or to induce muscle relaxation and decrease the stiffness of muscle-tendon systems. Static stretching cold muscles, which provides some risk for muscle damage, is better placed at the end of the workout when the muscles have shortened or tightened. It is not an efficient way to increase core and muscle temperature and improve neuromuscular (coordination) function.
Progressive dynamic movement and/or progressive low-intensity running will increase core and muscle temperature as well as provide increased range of motion throughout the specific running mechanism. Static stretching (holding a stretch for a period of time) and ballistic stretching (bouncing to increase the amount of stretch) are inefficient and counterproductive methods for getting the muscles ready for activity.
Here's a question and answer that reminds us that not all owies are sinister and not all answers are complicated:
Q: Over the past few weeks, I have been experiencing foot pain when I run. The pain is at the top of my feet. It starts out as little twitches, then progresses to the point where I need to stop. After a bit, the pain stops. I tried laying off for a few days, but it came back as soon as I started again. The only change I have made lately is the addition of memory foam inserts to my shoes, which actually feel really good.
A: From Dr. Carol Teitz of the University of Washington:
If the "top of the foot" means the instep, there are three main possibilities. Given the information about the shoe inserts, it's possible the reader is experiencing a pinched nerve. There is a nerve that runs along the instep and is just under the skin. Some people experience pain in this area when their shoes are tied too tightly. We also see it in ballet dancers en pointe with pressure from the ribbons on their pointe shoes.
Your reader's inserts may be taking up enough room in the shoes such that the top of the foot is pushed up against the tongue. A way to test this hypothesis would be to run without the inserts and see if the problem still occurs. If it does, probably best to see an orthopedic surgeon to look for other diagnoses.
Note: The reader took out the inserts, and case solved.