Stretching is one of the best things you can do to increase flexibility, plus it’s a great form of relaxation and stress release. However, stretching improperly can actually lead to more harm than good. Below are some of the most common mistakes people make when stretching:
Stretching Before Warming Up:
A common misconception is that if you have stretched, the body is ready to start a workout. However, stretching is not the same as warming up and warming up before exercising increases the body’s ability to perform any sport or activity more effectively. The purpose of warming up is to raise the body temperature by a 2 degrees, leading to increased awareness, improved elasticity, and improved efficiency of respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
Proper stretching can be separated into two categories, joint rotations and aerobic activity. Joint rotations help to lubricate the joints and allow them to function more freely. To do joint rotations, start from either the toes up, or the fingertips down, and rotate joints in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction.
Aerobic activity is defined as any activity that increases the heart rate and blood flow throughout the body. Examples of aerobic activity include jogging, jump rope or jumping jacks. Stretching a cold muscle can lead to injury, so it’s important to warm up the muscles with moderate exercise for at least ten minutes before stretching.
Stretching an injured muscle:
Over-stretching or exercising without a proper warm up can lead to micro-tears in the muscle fibers and connective tissues. Muscle soreness, stiffness and pain are all common symptoms associated with an injured muscle. Depending on the severity of the injured muscle, one may wish to not stretch as to not aggravate the injury; however, in mild cases it can help with healing and maintaining flexibility in the muscle. It is important to identify the source of pain and the severity of the injury early on, as stretching an injured muscle can exasperate the problem by worsening a tear in the muscle.
In the case of soreness due to metabolic accumulation, or the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, stretching can actually help relieve the pain by redistributing the buildup to other areas.
Muscle spasms can also be a common source of pain, and are a typical result of exercising past a certain threshold. Over exercising can lead to reduced blood flow to those active muscles, which leads the muscles to contract as a protective reflex, further decreasing blood flow. Lower blood flow to muscles, and the following muscle contraction, can be quite painful so stretching may not be the best solution. Instead, try massaging the muscle and avoiding intense exercise of that area.
Stretching too far:
Pushing muscles beyond their ability can also lead to injury, such as tears in the muscle tendons and fibers. It’s okay to feel a little bit of discomfort during a stretch, but it should never feel painful. Over-stretching can be counterproductive, as the body spends time repairing itself rather than gaining flexibility. A common sign of over-stretching is if muscles often hurt after stretching, which can be a result of overworking muscles or not warming up beforehand.
Not stretching at all:
Believe it or not, one of the most common mistakes people make is not stretching at all! When stretching is done properly, it can help prevent future injuries and lead to better posture.
As always, if you have any questions regarding your stretching routine, it is a good idea to attend a specialized class, or consult a trainer.
Remember, warming up and using proper form when stretching is important to avoiding injury.
Following these tips will help increase your performance and lead to a healthier you.