You know all about stretching. You use it to relieve pain and prevent stiffness, and you always have a foam roller nearby. It’s great that you’re remembering to stretch—it’s critical for a successful fitness routine.
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But only if you stretch correctly With the help of someone who knows the ins and outs of stretching, we’ve broken down the most common mistakes you could be making.
Peek below to find out what they are and if you’re actually stretching wrong.
You only stretch post-workout.
Many people stretch at the tail end of their workout but forgo it at the beginning. However, you shouldn’t only limit stretching to after weights or a run.
Doing it beforehand can help loosen your muscles and increase your range of motion. This could make you less likely to injure yourself.
Even just 15 minutes of stretching pre-workout has been proven to help with injury prevention. This is the perfect time to do some dynamic stretches (more on that in a bit)—think moving stretches that mimic the workout to come.
You’ll often see runners doing butt kicks, walking lunges, and leg lifts because these movements prepare the muscles they’ll use for the run ahead.
Aaptiv members take stretching classes after their workouts or to loosen up. Check them out in the app.
You don’t warm up first.
Whether you’ve just woken up or haven’t moved around much all day, your muscles are rigid. Really rigid. Jumping (literally) into pre-workout stretches without a proper warm-up can set you up for more pain than gain.
Before you get into your mini stretch sesh, always include a warm-up. The goal here is to heat up, loosen up, and bring blood flow to your joints and muscles (just enough to almost break a sweat), but don’t tire yourself out before you’ve even started your routine.
Eight to 12 minutes of jumping rope, jumping jacks, and walking lunges is just one effective warm-up you can do before stretching.
You don’t strength train.
Muscle tightness doesn’t always mean you’re not stretching enough. Sometimes the muscle in question is just weak.
In that case, forcing a stretch can cause major strain and potentially lead to injury. Strength training with a range of motion, surprisingly enough, is the solution.
Performing strength exercises through the full range of motion (to the lengths and depths you can reach) will increase your stretching tolerance due to the added weight, movement repetition, and your body’s familiarity with elongating the muscles used.
On top of that, if you’re already pretty bendy, strength training may aid in stabilizing your (really) mobile joints.
“My theory is that by working on strength and flexibility at the same time, we can maintain joint stability, improve the quality of the tissue, and enjoy better posture and performance,” says Suzanne Wylde, creator of Moving Stretch and author of Moving Stretch: Work Your Fascia to Free Your Body.
You’re doing the wrong type of stretch.
Although it may not seem obvious, there are a few different ways to stretch. It isn’t as easy as doing some toe touches before you go.
Doing the wrong type of stretch at the wrong time can result in injury either during your stretch or workout. Below we break down the differences among the styles and when to do them.
This type of stretching involves moving through your whole range of motion (ROM). As mentioned before, it uses moving stretches to mimic the movements you’ll be doing throughout the workout.
This warms up and stretches your muscles and joints without holding any end position and should be done pre-workout.
“In terms of stretching before sport, dynamic stretches have a better reputation. Static stretches have been shown to reduce performance and also make it easier to injure ourselves if done within 30 minutes before exercise,” Wylde says.
It consists of elongating a certain muscle (or set of muscles) until you feel a pull. Typically this is at your furthest range of motion. These stretches are done without much movement and should be held for at least 15 seconds. They’re best after a workout to help relieve muscle fatigue and speed up recovery. Some popular post-workout static stretches are the butterfly, single-leg hamstring stretch, and arm-over-chest stretch.
Wylde suggests moving stretching, a subset of dynamic stretching, for its ability to recondition muscles, make you stronger, and improve flexibility and posture. “Moving stretch … is a type of resistance stretching where you tense your muscles and then move through the stretch, just like when we yawn and stretch,” she explains. Basically, it places tension on the muscle while it’s stretching, not just when it’s contracting. This engages not only the muscle but the tendons and fascia (connective tissue) as well. Like static stretching, it should be done after a workout.
Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist swimmer), Allan Houston (of the New York Knicks), Michael Gebhardt (Olympic windsurfer), and more use resistance stretching to improve their performance.
You hold your stretches too long (or not long enough).
Because dynamic stretching is all about movement, it’s not of concern here. But when it comes to static stretching, how long are we supposed to hold each stretch? Not holding a stretch long enough can render it ineffective, but too long can actually make you stiffer, putting you at risk of injury. The sweet spot falls between 15 and 60 seconds, depending on your level of flexibility and the stretch. The safest bet is 30 seconds per stretch, which will work to lengthen your tissue and muscle fibers.
While pushing yourself to stretch further can be satisfying, it can also be very dangerous. Your muscles may feel extra-warm and limber after a workout, but they’re also very tired.
“Static stretching can easily lead to overstretching. Most people think the farther we push in a stretch, the better,” Wylde explains.
“However, when you push [too] far in a stretch, you are pulling on the weakest areas—not the very tense ones—and are likely to do more harm than good.” Stay within your range of motion, and if you’re feeling particularly tense after a workout, Wylde recommends doing some moving (or resistance) stretching.
We have the perfect stretching classes for after a heavy workout. Check them out.
To recap: Warm up and do dynamic stretching before your workout. This will prepare your body and mind for the workout ahead.
After you’ve finished and cooled down, implement some static or moving stretching to jump-start muscle recovery. Doing both will do you big favors by making you less stiff and prone to injury. Ready, set, stretch!