A few tips before I get to the article title: If you're going to stretch before a workout, make sure it is a dynamic warm-up, imitating what you are about to do. For example, before a hard run, do some lunges, high knees, butt kicks or a light jog to mimic the more intense exercise you're about to do. With a strength workout, do some mobility moves to open up your joints and get your body ready to do work - push-ups, runner's stretch, air squats, jumping jacks, burpees.
I do try to perform a dynamic warm-up before I do a strength circuit, but when I run, I just walk out the door and go. I have ran consistently for 12 years. 5ks, 10ks, 13 half marathons, and 2 marathons. That's a lot of running and a lot of running without stretching. I have found, as I shift my focus on more strength training in the coming year, that I should have been stretching. In particular, I should have been stretching my hamstrings.
You see, as runners, we tend to be very cut and fit on the front parts of our bodies: quads, abs, biceps, anterior delts. If I were to make a sagittal cut (cutting my front and back halves in 2), you would see that the anterior portions are defined and overworked, while the posterior (hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors) are weak and tight. My hamstring has lost flexibility through the years as finally, I'm trying to get that back. I first noticed this quite obviously at the gym when I can easily leg press over 300lbs but can only squat 105 (3 sets of 8 reps). I get to that "sticking point" and can't move. My hamstrings and glutes are crazy weak!
Here are my top items to have around the house to stretch your muscles (btw, static stretches (holding muscles in place for 20-30 sec) should ONLY happen after a workout if necessary).
1. Foam roller - hold under leg or arm muscles or roll back and forth really breaking up that connective tissue. Here's some ways to use it: Foam Rolling
2. Lacrosse ball/semi-hard bouncy ball/tennis ball - Whatever you have, just make sure it's dense. Here's way to use it: Tennis ball rehab
3. Elastic band - Use primarily for IT band syndrome or tight legs. Here's a link:IT band stretches
4. The stick - great for runners before and after races - All About The Stick
5. Your own body! - often times you can get effective stretching done with a couch, another person or by yourself. Here's a few stretches I'm starting to incorporate at the gym more. Just remember, a stretch should feel like a good stretch. Some discomfort is good. Pain is not!