Years ago, performing a battery of static, reach-and-hold type stretches before a run was not only in fashion but was considered by many to be essential for injury prevention.
More recently, runners have abandoned static stretching in favor of dynamic stretching, where the joints are slowly moved through their full ranges of motion in a series of exercises that mimic the separate motions of running. But some recent research now calls into question the efficacy of all stretching, regardless of type, for distance runners.
Can Stretching Prevent Injuries?
The primary reason why any athlete stretches before exercise is to decrease the risk of injury; but two recent, very thorough reviews found no evidence that stretching reduces injuries among runners.
A 2011 Cochrane review looked at six stretching trials involving 5,130 runners, while a 2013 Scandinavian paper published in the journal Sports Medicine culled data from four trials involving 4,812 participants across a range of sports, including runners. Both reviews found that while individual study results were somewhat inconclusive, the aggregate of the data was strong enough to conclude that stretching immediately before activity is not effective for reducing the incidence of injury.
The Scandinavian paper did find that a dynamic warm-up was effective for reducing injuries in about half the studies reviewed, but none of those studies involved runners. There is also other supporting evidence that shows that a dynamic, sport-specific warm-up can reduce injuries in sports involving speed, power and agility, so if you are a short distance runner or sprinter, don't skip the warm-up. These findings do not seem to apply to distance runners, though, because their injuries largely tend to be caused by overtraining and are seldom the result of the acute trauma that a warm-up or dynamic stretching can help prevent.