The most neglected fitness component in your training programme?


Flexibility is arguably  the most neglected fitness component in most runner's training programmes. Why is it that stretching gets so neglected, especially when it is one of the least stressful aspects of training when compared to the speed, coordination, strength and endurance aspects of fitness training? 

Perhaps it's not as sexy as speed or strength work but, ignore it at your peril; stretching can help you run more efficiently and may help to keep you injury free.

Also with flexibility there has been so much confusion as to what is right and wrong and it would appear that previous research has added to the confusion. It wasn't that long ago that you would see runners stretching in a static position (without moving) before running and then research came out that said that this can cause more problems than it alleviates. Static stretching was banished to post exercise (to be replaced by dynamic stretching) and the belief was that if you stretch after exercise you will avoid the dreaded DOMS. However, there has been research that has also questioned that!

If you don't already include stretching as part of your training programme but have realised that you will have a healthier and happier running life with it, the table below should explain when and how you should stretch as well as the type of stretch it should be. 




Before running

(warm up)

After running

(cool down)

Separate Flexibility/Mobility session

Type of stretch




Number of seconds (")  

to hold the stretch


10 - 15"



Prepare the muscles  

Realign the muscle fibres to how they were pre-run

Increase range of motion and flexibility


Working to the range of motion required or just beyond & being gradual with intensity

Dehydrated muscle are less pliable & liable to cramps or tears if stretches are too aggressive

With a relaxed and well warmed up muscle stretching can be more focussed


Dynamic stretching is stretching the muscles whilst on the move. Activities such as high knee skipping and lunges will prepare you for running by stretching the muscles dynamically. They should only be held for around 2 - 3 seconds. Most stretching exercises that you perform statically can be performed dynamically with a bit of imagination but you should not bounce as you stretch but rather incorporate the stretch into some forward, backward or sideward movement.

Static stretching is where you hold the stretch. If you have been injured and been shown some specific stretches by a physiotherapist you may have been told to hold the stretch for 30 seconds or longer. By doing this you encourage the muscle fibres to accept the stretch and so increase the length of the muscle and improve range of movement.

However, you often experience some resistance by the muscle during the 30 seconds and then it accepts the stretch and relaxes into it. If you have done a training session or run your muscles will be tired and so this is not the best time to push the stretch and hold it for a long time. All you really need to do post-run is stretch gently for around 10 seconds to realign the muscle fibres. You will be in a better state both mentally and physically to stretch for 30 seconds if you do it as a separate session:somewhere warm and where you can relax completely.