Stretching can help make or break a workout. It loosens muscles and helps joints and muscles lengthen to their full extension, so it really can improve your performance. But watch what you’re doing! There are some common stretching mistakes that can do some serious damage.
1. Not Stretching At All
We all know people who feel so time-strapped they skip the stretch and go straight to the workout. But that’s the worst mistake you can make when it comes to stretching, since stretching could help prevent certain injuries.
2. Being Inconsistent
Stretching is like some medications, if you don’t keep at it every day, it won’t benefit you in the long run. At least once or twice a day, take a few minutes to stretch the parts of your body that feel most stressed. You’ll feel refreshed and less tense.
3. Focusing on the Wrong Muscles
Don’t worry about the muscles that already feel loose. By stretching them, you’re ignoring muscles that need more attention. What’s tricky is, the “right” muscles are different for everyone. Focus on where you feel the most tension.
If you move too fast when stretching, you’re putting yourself at higher risk for injury. Getting a good stretch might not be the main event (your workout is) but it’s important, so put time into it.
5. Holding Your Breath
While stretching, it’s common to lose focus on your breathing. But holding your breath actually tightens your muscles, causing inflexibility. Remind yourself to breathe throughout your stretches.
6. Doing Stretches that Hurt
Stretching shouldn’t hurt. When stretching, maintain a controlled speed and reach a point that feels good but still gives your muscles a good stretch. You want to maintain a healthy range of motion, and not force it wider. You could tear the muscle! If anything hurts when stretching, stop immediately. If the pain persists, consult a doctor.
7. Using Bad Form
If you don’t feel a stretch when you’re in a certain position that should cause a stretch, then you’re probably doing it wrong. Poor body positioning can make you miss a muscle and even cause damage. Good form gives keeps your body comfortable and relaxed. If you have any questions about whether or not you’re using good form, consult a personal trainer or physical therapist.
8. Stretching an Injured Muscle
Stretching an injured muscle will only make the injury worse. If muscle pain doesn’t go away within a week, get it checked out. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
9. Getting Competitive
Sure you want to keep up with that extra-limber ex-gymnast in your yoga class, but listen to your body, and stay in your range of motion. Stretching beyond your limit can cause muscle tear. And remember: Just because someone can touch their toes without bending their knees or can do a perfect bridge doesn’t mean they’re in better shape than you are. Flexibility is just one component of physical fitness.
10. Stretching Your Lower Back
It’s tempting want to stretch your lower back but don’t! As you move your hips and spine throughout the day, your hips will naturally stretch your lower back muscles, and that’s all they need. Doing anything beyond this can loosen the muscles along the spine and make it easier for your spine to go out of alignment.
11. Wearing High Heeled Shoes
If you stretch your calves, don’t wear high heels. It’s like running a mile and then eating a burger – it negates the stretch you just did. Unlike flats and supportive shoes, high heels cause your muscles to tense up. You risk losing the flexibility you just gained, and you also can create an injury.