8 Stretching Mistakes That Are Hurting Your Workout
Last Updated: Jun 02, 2017
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Runner athlete stretching legs
Whether you can do the splits or barely touch your toes, it’s important that you’re stretching properly. In order to get the most from your workouts, you need to stretch at the right time, for the right reasons and in the right way. When used properly, stretching can loosen tight muscles and help you recover from your workout. However, if you don’t stretch properly, it can actually make your workout worse! So here are eight stretching mistakes you might be making (and how to correct them).
Muscular woman doing stretching workout in gym
HOLDING YOUR BREATH
The goal of stretching is to get a muscle to relax. And one of the best ways to do that is to take a deep breath. But when you feel the uncomfortable tension of a stretch, you might be tempted to shorten your breaths or stop breathing altogether. Instead of keeping track of how many seconds you’re stretching, keep track of how many breaths you take. If you use the breathing technique in the next slide, complete two cycles before you stop the stretch. This should be about 30 seconds of stretching, which is the ideal amount of time, according to a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.
Related: 6 Breathing Techniques to Improve Your Strength Training
Woman in Kapotasana Yoga Pose
TRY THIS BREATHING TECHNIQUE
Here's a calming breathing technique from the Postural Restoration Institute: Touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Exhale, making an “ah” sound, until all of the air is out of your lungs. Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath for four seconds. Exhale through your mouth for eight seconds, making an “ah” sound.
Fit young couple warming up before a run together
STRETCHING FOR TOO LONG
No matter when you're stretching, you should limit the amount of time you hold a stretch. According to a 2012 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, you should limit each stretch to 60 seconds. If you stretch a muscle for more than 60 seconds in one particular position, you decrease the power that muscle is able to provide, since it's so stretched out. If you’re stretching to increase your range of motion, you should stretch for about 30 seconds per muscle. Limiting a stretch to 30 seconds will also give you more time to dedicate to other parts of your workout.
Fitness man stretching triceps before gym workout
USING TOO MUCH FORCE
Stretching should be slightly uncomfortable, but never painful. When you stretch, your muscle gets tighter to protect the joint by preventing you from moving it too far. But the goal of stretching is to try to get your joint to move past that point, so you do have to push your muscle a little bit further than it wants to go. In other words, when you stretch, you’re pulling against your muscle. This causes microtrauma to the muscle, similar to the small amount of damage that you get when you lift weights. This means that stretching can make you sore and, depending on your workout, it may actually hurt your recovery. Only push your stretches to the point that you feel discomfort, no further.
STRETCHING IF YOU’RE HYPERMOBILE
Have you ever seen someone who can do center splits and fold completely forward with no warm-up? They might be hypermobile. While it occurs mostly in women, some men are hypermobile, too. They’re naturally very flexible and have a lot of range of motion in their joints -- almost too much -- which means that they don’t actually need to stretch during their workouts. Think of tightness in your muscles as control of your joints. If you have very tight muscles, you have a lot of control with little flexibility. If you’re hypermobile, you have less control over your joints, which makes you prone to injury. If you think you’re hypermobile, then stretching could possibly hurt your workouts. Stick to body-weight or resistance training to regain more control of your joints and avoid stretching.
healthy man stretching leg before gym workout
PICKING THE WRONG TYPE OF STRETCH
There are two basic types of stretching: static and dynamic. Make sure you use the right type at the right time in your workout. Static stretching is good for someone who is doing an activity like ballet that requires a lot of flexibility. But for most people, static stretching is best done after the workout because you don’t move very much. It’s a calming, cooling and restorative way to wind down. Dynamic stretching is best before activities like swimming, running and lifting weights. It’s stretching while moving, which gives you the added benefit of warming up your body. The biggest drawback is that you can’t target a specific muscle or joint to stretch like you can with static stretching.
Related: 11 Stretches Almost Everyone Can Do
Woman doing a box squat at the gym
STRETCHING BEFORE A PLYOMETRICS WORKOUT
Plyometrics, or explosive training, requires your muscles to be very responsive. In a plyo exercise, such as a jump squat, you get a spring-like power from the lowering, or stretching, part of the movement. Just like a rubber band, when your muscles stretch, they get tighter. When you start to move upward in a jump, you’re taking all of the tension you’ve built up from lowering yourself into a squat and releasing it to help you jump higher, like the snap when you let go of a rubber band. Stretching makes your muscles less tense, so avoid stretching before your plyometric workout and opt for a mobility warm-up instead.
Man stretching legs before running
STRETCHING BEFORE A WORKOUT TO AVOID INJURY
While it might seem intuitive that a tight muscle is prone to injury and needs to be stretched, that’s actually not the case. When you take a muscle that’s tight and stretch it out, you’re actually slightly weakening the muscle, according to a 2000 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. In fact, stretching before exercise can make you more prone to injury, according to a paper by Ian Schrider, M.D. If your goal is to avoid injuries in your workout, skip the stretching and focus on warming up dynamically instead. Save stretching for after your workout, when you no longer have to worry about getting injured.
Related: The Best Stretches for Cyclists
Feeling strong and confident after a completed serious running session
STRETCHING WITHOUT WARMING UP
Static stretching is a low-intensity movement. And when you spend 30 seconds on each stretch without moving, you lower your body temperature. This not only decreases your range of motion, but also can mentally take you out of workout mode and into relaxation mode. The goal of an effective warm-up should be to increase your range of motion. Stretching before a workout can also decrease your performance during the workout, so it’s best to prioritize a dynamic warm-up. Focus on body-weight exercises like jumping jacks, squats, lunges, planks and other exercises that keep you moving and raise your body temperature.
Related: The Best Dynamic Stretches for Runners
Multi-ethnic group stretching in a gym
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
How often do you stretch? Do you stretch before or after your workout? Are you guilty of making any of these mistakes? Are there other stretching mistakes you’ve corrected in your workout? Were you surprised by any of the things on this list? Any that you would add? Share your thoughts, suggestions and questions in the comments section below!
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