Hey Angels and Alphas,
As you probably know, there are about a billion reasons to make stretching a regular part of your fitness routine. It’s not only relaxing, but it improves your flexibility and range of motion, preparing your muscles and joints for workouts. It also helps you prevent injury, improve recovery, alleviate soreness, and so much more.
But these benefits can only be achieved if stretching is done correctly.
Unfortunately, many people, both athletes and regular gym-goers, make several stretching mistakes that make their stretching sessions not only ineffective, but also potentially harmful and counterproductive.
Today, we’re taking a look at the 5 most common stretching mistakes – as well as how to fix them – so you can start doing productive, effective stretching routines.
STRETCHING MISTAKE #1 – DOING STATIC STRETCHES BEFORE YOUR WORKOUT.
Is it just me, or did it (at one time) seem like everyone was doing static stretches before their workouts? But right now, experts and researchers alike are all cautioning athletes and gym-goers that holding static stretches while your muscles are still cold (meaning before your workout) can increase your risk of muscle strain and significantly diminish your performance during your workout.
Not only that, but holding static stretches before your workout can decrease the strength of your lower-body by as much as 8 percent, according to this brilliant piece of research published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.
Researchers also speculate that lengthening your muscles (through static stretching) while they’re not warmed up can limit their potential to effectively “fire up” during exercise. And if you’re the type of exerciser that lifts heavy or performs a lot of explosive moments (such as sprints, jumps, squats, etc.) then you need your muscles to always be firing efficiently.
How do you fix it? Forget about static stretches when it comes to your pre-workout routine. The king of all pre-workout stretching is called dynamic stretching.
Unlike static stretches, which are basically passive singular positions held for longer periods of time, the dynamic stretches are active and use a back-and-forth movement to bring about a stretch in the muscle. This not only helps the muscle warm-up and gets your joints ready to move through their full range of motion, but it also does much more for you in terms of flexibility. Save your static stretching routine for after your workout, when your muscles are warm, so you can relax them and alleviate post-workout muscle soreness.
STRETCHING MISTAKE #2 – STRETCHING WITHOUT STRENGTHENING.
If you’re stretching after every workout, but the tightness in your muscles never seems to get better, you have to focus your efforts on building strength in that tight muscle group. A lot of the time, tight muscles are just muscles that are weak and they’re trying to hold tone.
For example, hip flexors are a group of muscles that help you bend your knees toward your chest. They’re notorious for being some of the tightest and weakest muscles in the body. And while stretching your hip flexors might feel great, they’re not going to experience any improvement or increases in flexibility until you start properly training them for strength.
How do you fix it? If your stretching routine is not helping you gain any flexibility, then you should focus on strengthening the muscle group. After your stretching, perform some low-intensity strength exercises. If we’re taking the hip flexors as an example, some awesome strengthening options include standing marches in place (but slow and controlled, of course), as well as hip bridges and lunges.
STRETCHING MISTAKE #3 – FORCING THE STRETCH.
This is a big no-no. If you want an effective stretch, you must be able to “relax into it.” While many exercises try to force stretches, this is not only unpleasant, but it can lead to serious muscle strain.
Remember: a muscle is at its weakest when it’s in its end range. Take the bicep curl, for example. Your muscle is the strongest when your elbow is bent around the 90- degree mark, and it’s very weak when it is either extended or flexed. If you stretch at one of those end ranges (when the muscle is weak), you’re at a much higher risk of straining yourself.
To fix it, just learn to ease into stretches. If you notice that a stretch is making you change your breathing pattern, back off.
STRETCHING MISTAKE #4 – OVERSTRETCHING!
Yes, it exists.
Overstretching is more common is certain muscle groups more than others. It naturally leads to imbalances in flexibility, which can affect both your join stability and your posture.
If your hamstrings are overstretched, and then paired with tight hip flexors, you are guaranteed to end up with poor positioning in your pelvis over your hip joint. An example of this can be seen in gymnasts and dancers who often stand with an arched lower back (exactly from tight hip flexors and long hamstrings.) This type of posture irritates your hips and leads to poor core stabilization in the long-run.
The fix here is simple – learn to stretch opposing muscle groups. If stretching the front of your legs, always make sure to check the flexibility in the back of your leg. Similarly, if you’re stretching your shoulders or your upper back, make sure to stretch out your chest, as well.
STRETCHING MISTAKE #5 – RUSHING IN YOUR STRETCHES.
A stretch is only good when you can naturally ease into it and hold it for a period of time in order to lengthen the muscle. If you rush things out and don’t slowly and gradually build up into your stretch, you’re missing the point, and you’ll likely lose all the benefits stretching has to offer.
How to fix it? Ease into (and then hold) stretches for 90 seconds before releasing them. Repeat for another 90 seconds, for up to 5 sets total. This is the amount you need to see genuine changes in range of motion without exposing your muscles to unnecessary stimuli.