Here's What Happens If You Don't Stretch Before Running

Trainers weigh in.

Here's what happens if you don't stretch before a run.
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By the time you strap on your Fitbit, pull on a pair of leggings, and choose a playlist, the last thing you probably want to do is stop and stretch before a run. It’s just so much easier to set off on a jog and let that count as your warmup. Once you know what happens if you don’t stretch before running, though, you’ll know it’s worth it to do those leg swings and hamstring sweeps first.

Taking the time to properly warm up is key for your athletic performance, after all. “Stretching before a run affects how prepared you feel physically and also affects how ready your brain is for the activity,” says run coach Tori Williams. If you’re going out for a casual spin around the block, she says you’ll notice that you feel sluggish and sore without a warmup stretch. If you’re attempting to log more miles or work on your pace, the side effects will be even more obvious.

Think of a pre-run stretch as a little appetizer for what’s to come. The purpose? Priming your mind and your muscles for the exercise they’re about to engage in — which is super important for how efficiently you move as you hit the track.

Keep scrolling to learn exactly what happens if you don’t stretch before running, according to fitness pros.

Why You Need To Stretch Before A Run

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As Williams explains, when you warm up for a run, you’re telling your body you are getting ready to work out. A good stretch gets your blood pumping so that your heart rate rises slowly — instead of spiking — as you start to move. This, in turn, makes it easier to maintain your energy throughout your run.

Stretching also preps your running muscles — your hamstrings, glutes, quads, calves, ankles, and hips — for movement, says Meg Takacs, a running coach and founder of Movement & Miles. When you do dynamic stretches — like butt kicks, single-leg hops, and glute bridges — you activate these muscles as well as your heart rate and stabilizer muscles. “This prepares your body to perform,” she tells Bustle.

Dynamic stretches also bring your joints through their full range of motion so that you feel comfier as you stride, says Takacs. This type of stretching (as compared to static stretching) also lowers your risk of injury. By activating the muscles your running gait requires prior to your run, it'll ensure your knees and other joints absorb less impact as you pound the pavement.

If you plan to do a speed workout, dynamic stretches are what prepare your muscles for faster, more explosive movements. “This helps you avoid injury from pulled muscles and helps you keep the pace that you want,” Williams notes. “You will see and feel a difference in your first interval or repetition, as it will almost always be slower and feel harder without a warmup.”

How Long To Stretch Before A Run

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Thankfully, you don’t have to spend too much time warming up before you hit the tread. According to Williams, a five to 10-minute dynamic stretch is enough to prep your muscles and joints for a run. “Typically, I will spend about five minutes doing leg swings and other dynamic stretches,” she says.

The goal? To focus on dynamic stretches that loosen you up from the hips down by moving your lower body through different planes of motion. Some other warmup options are heel sweeps, knee hugs, lunges with a torso twist, and inchworms. Take the time to stretch before your run, and you’ll definitely notice a difference.

Studies referenced:

Darendeli, A. (2023). Comparison of EMG activity in shank muscles between individuals with and without chronic ankle instability when running on a treadmill. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. doi: 10.1016/j.jelekin.2023.102773.

Faelli, E. (2021). The Effect of Static and Dynamic Stretching during Warm-Up on Running Economy and Perception of Effort in Recreational Endurance Runners. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(16).

Fradkin, AJ. (2010). Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c643a0.

Marinho, DA. (2017). Complementing Warm-up with Stretching Routines: Effects in Sprint Performance. Sports Med Int Open. doi: 10.1055/s-0043-111788.

Pamboris, G. M. (2021). Influence of dynamic stretching on ankle joint stiffness, vertical stiffness and running economy during treadmill running. Frontiers in Physiology, 13.

Stewart, IB. (1998). The effect of warm-up intensity on range of motion and anaerobic performance. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1998 Feb;27(2):154-61. doi: 10.2519/jospt.1998.27.2.154. PMID: 9475139.

Tsurubami, R. (2020). Warm-Up Intensity and Time Course Effects on Jump Performance. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 19(4), 714-720.


Tori Williams, run coach

Meg Takacs, running coach, founder of Movement & Miles