Stretching mistakes you might be making. We know that stretching improves flexibility and prepares you for the everyday. We also know that it’s good for your circulation and posture. You can read more about that in The Importance of Stretching. It seems simple enough, you sit down and lift your leg up into the air, or bend over and try to touch your toes. The question is, can you be doing it wrong? Are there ways to maximize your stretching to get the most out of it? Can you be doing something better?
STRETCHING MISTAKES YOU MIGHT BE MAKING
You don’t set aside time to stretch. I always used to tell my clients that stretching was just as important as working out and I still stand by that today. I’m not saying that you need to have the elasticity of gymnast, but fitting in a few minutes of deeper stretching post workout or even setting aside a workout day that focuses mainly on lengthening your muscles and opening up your body. You can accomplish this by adding a yoga class to your weekly routine or just spending an extra 20 minutes stretching 3x a week.
You stretch for too long. As much as I love stretching and think that its vital for our bodies to feel good, you can actually stretch for too long. Gymnasts, dancers and other athletes who need to be very flexible will spend more time performing very deep stretches, but their end goal is very different than that of the average gym goer who simply needs to be limber. Not only do they need to have an above (a lot above) average level of flexibility, but they also need to be extremely strong. Unless you are prepared to train that way, balancing strength and flexibility, you can actually do yourself a disservice by over stretching because you will find you muscles losing both strength and speed.
You don’t strength train. They key here is balance. I have a number of friends who are very bendy and they actually remind me of elastic bands, but because they aren’t strong they are prone to injuries. Their muscles simply can’t stabilize their joints.
You don’t warmup. Take an old elastic band, stretch it and within no time you’ll find that it just snaps in two. If you don’t warm up properly, your chance of pulling a muscle increases. Never ever stretch a cold muscle. The same goes for stretching while injured. If you already have a strain, it’s important to let it heal otherwise you risk doing further damage to your body. Read Best Warmups For Your Workout now.
You don’t do a complete stretch. Way too often, I see people only stretching one part of their body. Usually it’s the hamstring and quads that receive some love but what about the rest of your body? Keep in mind that your muscles, tendons and ligaments are all attached. If one is injured, others will compensate for it. Recently, I was speaking with some friends and one had her legs stretched out in front of her on the floor and she was trying to place her head on her knees. The problem was that she had only been stretching her hamstrings while her glutes and lower back were tight. The stretch was never going to happen. Everyone who has a desk job should also be focusing on stretching their hip flexors. When you spend hours each day in front of a computer, your hip flexors become tight and that tilts your pelvis forward forcing you to arch your lower back which compresses it. This throws off your whole posture and can lead to a lot of pain and issues.
You overdo it. I’m not even talking about stretching for too long, but rather too deep. Unless you are trying to achieve a much higher degree of flexibility, you simply need to stretch until you feel some tension on your muscles then hold that stretch for about 20 seconds. There’s no need to become a contortionist.
You stretch on the wrong surface. I always have clients who ask if they can just stretch in their beds. If you are just waking up and need to activate your body a little then sure, a small, light stretch is just fine (be careful that you don’t overdo it, since you aren’t warmed up). Be warned that this doesn’t replace a proper stretch on the floor with or without a mat.
You don’t relax. I think many of us remember those old fitness video where people are bouncing around while stretching and just holding them for a 5 seconds before moving on to the next pose. I’m always surprised when I see people doing that at the gym. When you are completing static stretches ,20 seconds means 20 seconds. Also, try to slow down your breathing and let your body really relax into the stretch. If you are tensing up your muscles then you are working against yourself.
Just like warming up and performing your exercise of choice, stretching is a vital component to your well being and muscle health. I know that it’s tempting to let it slide, but in order for your body to stay healthy and strong and functioning at its optimal level, you should be making time to stretch every single week.
What’s your favourite stretch?
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