We all know stretching can do a body good. However, there are a surprising number of stretching myths out there that people continue to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Buying into these stretching myths means that we may not reap the maximum benefit from our stretches — and in some cases, end up causing pain and injury.
Here are the top 10 stretching myths you need to stop believing.
1. You Should Always Perform Static Stretches Before Exercising
Most people believe this stretching myth, even though it’s been proven time and time again to be untrue. Sitting and holding a cold, static stretch before you work — a.k.a. before your muscles have warmed up — isn’t just useless, it can actually cause harm. Studies have shown that stretching before a run makes you less efficient, and it may also make you more prone to injury. Instead of stretching, try a warm up that includes some dynamic motions, like jumping jacks and burpees, to warm up your muscles and get you ready to work.
2. Static Stretching Is Terrible
On the other hand; just because something isn’t always good, doesn’t mean that it’s always bad. Static stretching can be great to do immediately after a workout, as it can helps your worked muscles cool down and improve flexibility. Instead of just hopping in the shower and leaving the gym as soon as you finish your last exercise, spend at least 10 to 15 minutes doing static stretches to really loosen up those muscles and improve your flexibility.
3. Stretching Will Prevent Injury
When you understand the science behind stretching and injury, you realize that stretching alone cannot prevent you from getting hurt. There are a lot of factors that can lead to injury: improper warmups, bad technique, muscular imbalances and occasionally, pure bad luck. While some researchers believe that stretching after an exercise may be able to help you be less likely to be injured (and it’s only a maybe; the science is inconclusive), it’s certainly no magic bullet, and it may not make as big of a difference as you think. More important is to always do perfect from and to keep imbalances in check.
4. Stretching Prevents Soreness
This stretching myth is a tricky one. On the one hand, a 2011 review of a number of different studies found that stretching, “Does not produce clinically important reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness in healthy adults.” On the other hand, a 2012 study found that stretching, “Probably reduces the risk of some injuries, and does reduce the risk of bothersome soreness.”
Say what? In short, the jury’s out as to how much stretching helps reduce soreness. It has a lot of other great benefits, and it may be able to help somewhat, but it at least seems safe to say that it can’t eliminate muscle soreness. If you’ve done a particularly gruelling strength-training workout, or if you’ve moved your muscles in a way that they’re not accustomed to, they’re probably going to be sore, regardless of whether you stretch or not.
5. Flexible People Don’t Need To Stretch
Stretching benefits everyone, from the naturally very flexible to those who aren’t flexible at all. Many people lose flexibility as they age, often because they simply don’t regularly move through their full range of motion. Taking a little time to stretch now can help you to maintain your flexibility, even as you grow older. Being naturally flexible is all well and good, but you want to maintain and take care of what God gave you. And if you’re not naturally flexible, stretching can help loosen up those muscles and increase your agility and balance, preventing tightness and injury.
6. Stretch Until It Hurts
While few people actually vocalize this particular myth about stretching, a lot of people sure seem to believe it! Stretching is not the time to get aggressive, because going too hard too fast is an almost surefire way to hurt yourself. Of course, you should feel a slight pressure at the peak of a stretch, but pain is never a good sign. If you’re experiencing pain while stretching, ease up.
7. Stretching Is Always Good For You
With stretching, there’s often a feeling that more is better, and that it doesn’t matter when you do it. The truth is, you have to be very careful about stretching, particularly if you’re working a cold muscle without a proper warmup. Stretching a cold muscle can be dangerous, and can result in painful tears, pulls and injury. Next time you’re going to stretch, make sure that you squeeze in a light warmup first.
8. Only Stretch When You Feel Tight
It’s not a bad thing to stretch when you feel tight (although you should remember, again, to warm up first). However, if stretching is only done as remedial work, you miss out on a number of the real benefits that stretching can bring you. Stretching works best as a part of your regular routine. Remember what they say: “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” There’s a reason why yoga has so many health benefits, and one of them is because it involves regular, proactive stretching and lengthening.
9. You Should Stretch Extra Long Before A Race
Some people think that just before the big game or a race is a good time to do some extra stretching; and it can feel good to do a few stretches, just to have something to do. Unfortunately, you’re probably doing more harm than good. Treat your games and races just like your regular workouts. Use dynamic activities to warm up your muscles and put your joints through their range of motion. Leave the static stretching for when after the game has finished.
10. Always Stretch The Muscle That Hurts
When people have tight and painful spots that give them grief, it is common to want to stretch those areas; and that is frequently a good idea, but not always. All the muscles of the body are connected, and sometimes the true cause of tension is a complementary or opposing muscle. If stretching the muscle that feels tight doesn’t help, try working with some of the other muscles surrounding it to see if that gives you any relief. Again, if stretching becomes very painful, stop what you are doing immediately.