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Q: I’m new to running and enjoying it, but the muscles in my legs are always very sore for days after. I stretch before and after but it doesn’t help. Can you help?

Sarah L

A: The pain you are referring to sounds very much like what is commonly referred to as ‘DOMS’: Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness. Many runners are led to believe that this soreness is due to not stretching enough before or afterwards, but there is actually not much evidence to support this.

By ‘stretching’, I am going to presume you are referring to the traditional practice of holding a stretch position for 20-30 seconds. As far as warm-ups go, studies suggest that static stretching offers no benefit for runners in terms of reducing injury. It may even slightly decrease performance.

My suggestion would be to warm up with dynamic mobility exercises such as the ‘lunge matrix’, leg swings, toe pumps, etc. Static stretches after a run are often performed because they feel good, but again there is no evidence that they decrease risk of injury or reduce soreness.

In fact, the act of trying to stretch your muscles directly after your run may be increasing your soreness by pulling muscle fibres apart, when all they want to do is rest. Although some runners find that not stretching after a run can increase soreness, many find that it either makes no difference or actually reduces soreness if they do not stretch.

My recommendation would be to replace the post-run stretching with some gentle circling and opening/ closing of all your joints, from the ankles up to neck. This gentle ‘pumping’ of the joints is thought to
promote flushing in/out of fluid which may well help new muscle fibre growth, which after all is what recovery is all about.

In my opinion, next day soreness is most probably the result of not warming up adequately or having too demanding a run, or maybe a bit of both.

Try reducing the intensity or frequency of your workouts and see if this alleviates the soreness. Running can be extremely rewarding for beginners but it may be that you need to take things a little bit slower.

I hope this helps Sarah. Let us know how it goes!

Matt Philips is a Running Performance Coach & Injury Specialist at StrideUK & Studio57clinic.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @sportinjurymatt