Introduction: This is the last of our 3-part series: Stretching: the Ultimate Guide. Part I describes why you should stretch and when to do it, and Part II tells you exactly how to stretch to get the most benefit.
Part III explains common mistakes most people make when stretching. If you’ve missed Parts I & II, you can click the links above to read them.
Part III: 5 Common Stretching Mistakes You’re Probably Making
Before you go, you should double check you’re not making any of these common mistakes that, let’s face it, just undoes all your hard work.
Mistake #1: Stretching before you exercise
Yes, that’s right.
You shouldn’t do static stretching before you exercise.
As we talked about in Part I, dynamic stretching (aka an active warmup) is an important part of your pre-workout routine.
Static stretching, however, is generally NOT recommended.
There has been some research that indicates that static stretching prior to training can either:
- decrease your strength and/or performance or
- make you more prone to injury
And it makes sense, really.
Stretching relaxes your muscles, and primes them for rest and repair.
Why would you prime your muscles for relaxation when you’re about to go work them and need quick responses and power?
So save your static stretching for your training cool-down.
Mistake #2: Stretching too hard (aka overstretching)
Too many people think flexibility is a competition.
They push and pull and strain and grunt into a stretch to show how far they can force their body to go.
Ooh, congratulations, you’re torturing your muscles.
In Part II, you learned how the stretch reflex initially contracts against your stretch. It seems that the harder you stretch the harder your muscles contract against it.
If you stretch too hard, you’re likely to get tighter muscles or even get inflammation or tiny tears in your muscles.
It might be hard, but you HAVE to leave your ego at the door when you’re stretching and go by feel. Not by look.
Just because you CAN touch your toes doesn’t mean you should.
Mistake #3: Only stretching where you feel tight
Where you feel tight is almost never ground zero of the problem.
Most of the time, you have tension or imbalances somewhere else in your body, and that other tension or imbalance is aggravating the muscle that you feel is tight.
i.e., just because your hamstrings feel the tightest doesn’t mean you should exclusively stretch your hamstrings.
Your hamstrings may feel tight because your quads or ITB are tight, or because your piriformis (back of the hip) is tight. (or because you have a weakness or underuse problem – that’s another story)
If you don’t stretch in a whole-system way, you could be making your imbalances worse (much, much worse) making you a prime candidate for injury.
Stop stretching exclusively where you feel tight.
The next time you feel really tight in one area, don’t stretch that muscle first.
Instead stretch either the opposite muscle, or a complementary muscle, and re-test the tension in the muscle that’s bothering you.
You may find the first stretch makes you feel better than when you stretch your ‘problem muscle’.
Mistake #4: Stretching your joint instead of your muscle
This is a big one, and it’s particularly a problem for anyone with any extra mobility in their ligaments.
It’s very easy to pop your joint out of alignment to deepen the stretch (picture: when someone pulls their shoulder up to get a deeper triceps stretch, or lets their lower back collapse forward when doing a hip flexor stretch).
You LOOK like you’re going deeper because your elbow or leg or whatever is going further, but you’re not actually stretching the muscle anymore – you’re straining the ligament.
Three guesses what happens when you stretch your ligaments on a daily basis.
This often happens when people are going for that vanity stretch (like in the overstretching example above).
It’s much better/safer/effective to do a gentle stretch anchoring your joints in their sockets than doing a ‘deeper’ stretch that’s only stretching your ligaments.
You may be thinking:
But how would I know if I’m doing that?
Have a session with someone who knows their alignment – it can be a good Pilates instructor, yoga teacher, or bodywork practitioner who’s familiar with stretching.
Show them how you stretch and let them correct you.
You’ll probably realise you’re a lot less flexible than you thought you were, but your joints will thank you in the long run.
Mistake #5: Bouncing when you stretch
Do you have any idea why anyone ever thought it was a good idea to bounce when they stretch?
I mean, really, how would it possibly help your muscles?
When you stretch you’re trying to get your muscles fibres to relax and elongate.
When you bounce you’re just activating your stretch reflex over and over and over again.
And there’s been some indication that bouncing when you stretch may actually cause microtears in your muscle.
5 Mistakes Sum-Up
Here’s those mistakes again (how many do you remember?):
1 Stretching before you exercise
2 Stretching too hard
3 Only stretching where you feel tight
4 Stretching your joint instead of your muscle
5 Bouncing when you stretch
Since most people make at least one if not more of these mistakes, you can see why there are a lot of people who think stretching can be dangerous and advise people not to do it.
But not you.
You have the step-by-step how-to-stretch guide and know how to stretch in a way that’s safe and effective.
The Ultimate Stretching Guide Sum-Up
Hey, congratulations on getting through all three posts!
Look to your left and to your right – you now know more about stretching than those guys! (assuming you’re around people, and you’re not sitting next to two friends and you’re all reading the stretching guide together)
You can also now stretch more safely and effectively than you have been.
That means more flexibility and a lot less chance of injury.
Here’s a quick recap from the 3 parts of the guide.
The best time to stretch is after you train. Second best is before bed.
Steps to stretching perfection are:
- Start with your muscle in a slightly lengthened position
- Gently lean into the stretch (to a 3 or 4 out of 10)
- Stop leaning when you feel a gentle stretch or resistance
- Count to 10 and only deepen the stretch if it’s started to release – do 2-3 times
- If you haven’t felt a decrease after 10 seconds, come out of the stretch & start again
- Stretching before working out
- Stretching too hard/overstretching
- Only stretching the muscle that feels tight
- Stretching your joints by accident
- Bouncing when you stretch
If you have any questions about this, feel free to ask us in your next session or leave a comment below or on our facebook page and we’re happy to help!
Now I’d love to know – which of the five mistakes we talked about today have you done? Leave a comment below and let us know 🙂