Twenty-seven illustrated Running Stretches, in the shape of our own copyrighted Running Stick Girl. Stretching is critical in keeping from getting injuries while running. My son who is in cross country never runs without stretching first.
From Dr. Dave:
Stretching is important for everyone. It helps increase flexibility and can reduce injuries. You can tear tendons and muscle fiber by extending them farther than they are ready for. For instance, a warm rubber band will stretch well while a cold rubber band can snap apart.
More range of motion at a faster pace tends to lead to injury if not fully stretched out.
In my experience and research, I think stretching is especially helpful to do beforehand if you are going to do sprints or faster repetitions of distances. Fast running is especially hard on your hamstrings and quadriceps, but the whole leg is involved with a much greater range of motion then simply distance running.
On the other hand, I think that there is good evidence that pre-stretching for distance running might not be as helpful.
I, generally, do not do much stretching before I run on a regular training run. I think it is actually better in that situation to stretch afterwards. The book, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, has a lot of useful and interesting studies about this subject.
After your workout while your muscles are warm, they stretch well. It's the perfect opportunity to increase your flexibility in your tendons and muscles. They say runners get tight hamstrings - so let's stretch them out.
As far as the question as to how much to do? I think that a good rule of thumb is the more intense the workout, the more stretching is necessary.
I think that is up to the individual. My son runs cross country and they spend 15 minutes stretching before and after workouts and races. I myself do only a bit of stretching and seem to do fine. Pick out 5-6 exercises and do them consistently. As you continue to be faithful with them, I think you will see and improvement in your range of motion as well. If you don't like one stretch, then pick another that does a similar range of motion.
I think the same can be said for stretching and other activities such as walking, biking or swimming. If you are going to be in shape - do yourself a favor and retain your flexibility and help prevent injuries by stretching. Good luck!
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