There’s a lot of debate over how to stretch, when to stretch and even whether to stretch. Most of us consider it a no-brainer — you’ve got to do to increase flexibility as well as prevent injury and sore muscles. However, flexibility may not always be a good thing and some research has shown that it actually increases your risk of injury. According to Sage Rountree, author of The Runner’s Guide to Yoga, “We need only enough to move through a healthy range of motion — beyond that, we can strain muscles and tendons and even destabilize ligaments and compromise joint health.”
The key to reaping the benefits of stretching is to do it right and most of us don’t. Make sure you’re not making any of these five stretching mistakes.
1. Not stretching for the right amount of time.
Static stretches need to be held for at least 20 seconds but no longer than 60. Less than 20 seconds isn’t effective and more than 60 can lead to injury — though, let’s face it, few of us are guilty of holding a stretch for too long.
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2. Stretching BEFORE you workout.
Experts used to think it was essential to include stretching in your warm-up routine but research has shown that the opposite is true. Static stretches temporarily weaken muscles so if you use them right away, your performance will suffer and there’s a higher risk of injury. There’s some debate over how long it takes for your body to recover but it’s best to wait at least 10 minutes.
Bouncing is one of the worst mistakes you can make with static stretching. You’ll wind up tightening the muscles you’re trying to relax and you could hurt yourself. That’s not to say all stretches need to be static. Dynamic stretching is great pre- or post-workout. It involves a series of movements that increase your range of motion and get your blood pumping.
4. Stretching the wrong muscles.
First, you should only stretch to the point of mild discomfort, actual pain is not a good thing. If you have chronic pain in a specific area it may make sense to work on that area but remember, everything’s connected and the problem may originate somewhere else. For example, knee pain is sometimes caused by tight hamstrings or a tight IT band. Recent research illustrates how complex muscle flexibility can be.
5. Holding your breath.
Last but not least, next time you stretch pay attention to your breathing. Many of us unconsciously hold our breath which causes more tension. Take several deep breaths in and out as you stretch.