When I started running cross country in high school, we always stretched as a team before practices and games. After races, it was up to us to cooldown and stretch on our own, which sent the message that stretching after running wasn’t as important. Fast forward 20 years and stretching has been a hotly debated topic for at least two decades.
The latest researchers (mostly) agree that the most important thing is to stretch when your muscles are warm. For me, this means a half- to a full-mile warm-up and then some static stretches. Others save the stretching for after their run. (Need some ideas for what static stretches to do? Check out this article from Runner’s World.)
Some professionals say that range of motion is more important than the flexibility we’re looking for when we stretch and argue that stretching really isn’t that important unless you have an injury or tight muscle. Once you warm-up, if something still feels tight, take a minute to stretch it out.
I have a lot of tightness in my legs, and when my knee starts to feel uncomfortable during a race, stretching and massaging my IT band always seems to help. So while studies show that there actually isn’t any link between stretching and injury reduction, just like everything else, figure out what works best for you and go with it!