We all know stretching does a body good. It can help with muscle recovery, increase elasticity and prevent injuries, as well as improve your agility and overall performance.
However, not everyone pays as close attention to their stretching habits as they do to their actual workouts. Most of us take care to execute our exercise regimes with proper form and efficiency — but what about our stretching habits?
Get the most out of your workouts by implementing a solid stretching routine and avoiding these common mistakes below.
1. Neglecting To Stretch At All
This is a big one, but is worth stating. We all know people who feel so time-strapped they skip the stretch and go straight to the locker room after a workout. But that’s the worst mistake you can make when it comes to stretching. Stretching at the end of a workout (rather than before) is most ideal, as your muscles are the warmest they’ll be. Make sure you target the specific muscle groups that you focused on, as well as any problem areas (like hamstrings if you’re a runner, or knee exercises if you have weak knees, for example).
2. Being Inconsistent
Stretching is one of those things you want to maintain regularly in order to get the most benefit. If you don’t keep at it every day, after every workout, you won’t benefit in the long run.
2. Static Stretching Before A Workout
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.
3. Focusing On The Wrong Muscles
If you’ve just done a tough upper body workout, don’t just stretch your quads and hamstrings. You want to make sure you gently stretch the muscles you’ve worked the hardest.
4. Rushing Your Cool Down
If you move too fast when stretching, you’re putting yourself at higher risk for injury and your stretching won’t be as effective. Take your time with your cool down, holding each stretch for a good 10 to 20 seconds, or until you can feel the release of the lactic acid that had built up. Make sure to incorporate dynamic stretches for your whole body, while targeting the specific muscle groups you worked as well. You made it to the gym and you worked hard, so don’t rush this important part of your workout, and reward your muscles for a job well done.
5. Holding Your Breath
While stretching, it’s common to lose focus on your breathing. But holding your breath while you stretch can tighten the muscle and cause strain. Remember to relax and breathe deeply as you perform your stretches.
6. Doing Stretches That Hurt
Stretching shouldn’t hurt. When stretching, maintain a controlled speed and reach a point that still feels good, whiling giving your muscles a good stretch. You want to maintain a healthy range of motion, and not force it wider, otherwise you may tear or pull something — not good. If anything hurts when stretching, stop immediately. If the pain persists, see a doctor.
7. Practicing Bad Form
Poor body positioning can make you miss a muscle and even cause damage, while good form gives keeps your body comfortable and relaxed, allowing you to accurately stretch the correct muscles. For example, if you’re doing a cross-body shoulder stretch, you’ll want to make sure you keep your shoulders down away from the ears to prevent strain. 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, at least if it’s immediately after pulling it. The same goes for foam rolling. If the strain is minor, you can try gently stretching it a few days after pulling it, but in the meantime, back off and elevate, compress and ice the injury until it’s healed.
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 within 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, and everybody is different.
10. Stretching Your Lower Back
It’s tempting want to stretch your lower back, but you may be doing more harm than good. 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. Instead, try elongating yoga poses, like downward dog and cobra.