Whether you're releasing all the pent-up neck and shoulder tension or giving your quads and calves some love before a run, there's just something so delicious about a nice stretch. Not only does stretching feel so good, it also helps improve aches and pains and increases flexibility, mobility (being able to move with ease), and range of motion. In other words, stretching is a very important part of a wellness and fitness routine.
Like with most things, the key is avoiding common stretching mistakes that prevent you from gaining the full benefit of the stretch, or worse, can seriously hurt your muscles. And, who better to help with this than a professional stretcher? Ahead, learn the top five stretching mistakes to avoid, according to Austin Martinez, CSCS, director of education with StretchLab.
1. You have improper technique
Proper technique is vital. Improper technique could lead to many problems, including not targeting the muscles you want to stretch, which defeats the purpose. "Muscles are oriented and targeted based on the direction the fibers run,” Martinez explains. “Therefore, the angle of your leg/foot or arm could mean you miss out on the benefits.”
Improper form can also lead to injury because you may overload the muscle. "Proper technique involves having the right stabilization point and body parts anchored, which creates leverage,” Martinez says. “This results in you getting a deep enough stretch where needed, and ensures that you are safely stretching your body."
How to avoid it: Before you perform any stretch, Martinez recommends doing a little research on the muscle you want to stretch to ensure you know how to do it correctly. Alternatively, he says you can also work with a professional with experience in stretching to offer guidance and tips. Or, he adds, check out the Xponential+ fitness app that streams stretching exercises by pros on-demand.
2. You're stretching too deep (or not deep enough)
Another common stretching mistake Martinez often sees has to do with intensity. If you do too deep of a stretch, you can hurt yourself. He emphasizes that stretching should *never* be painful. "It is important to build your tolerance to stretch over time," he says. "Early on, your body will almost feel like it is resisting the stretch, and tensing up is common. With continued practice, your body's nervous system will calm down and adapt to the stretch."
And, on the flip side, if you're not stretching deep enough, well, you're not actually reaping the full benefits of the stretch, which can hurt your results.
How to avoid it: The key is to pay attention to how your body feels. Martinez notes that common signs of overstretching include holding your breath, squirming, nerve pain, sharp pains in the muscle, or shaking. He also suggests imagining an intensity scale ranging from 0 (no stretch) to 10 (pain). "For larger muscles such as hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes, aim for a five-to-seven stretch," he says. "For small muscles such as wrists and neck, aim for a three-to-five stretch. Your aiming point on the scale will start to lower as you progress as your body adapts to stretching."
3. You're holding the stretch too long
When it comes to stretching, more isn't better. The right timing is essential. "Research shows that you want to hold a stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds," Martinez says. "This duration allows enough time to create adaptations and changes in the muscle. After one minute, we see the adaptations/changes are not as pronounced."
How to avoid it: Make sure you keep track of time. "As you gain mastery, you can use your breath to help you count,” Martinez says. “You'll even notice that your body instinctively keeps an internal clock, and you'll have a feeling of when time approaches.”
4. You're stretching injured muscles
Injuries require ample rest and recovery time. We know this. Still, some may be tempted to power through it and stretch the injured muscle anyway. Martinez says this is a big mistake. "Injured muscles should not be stretched," he says. "If you are noticing pain, redness, inflammation, or swelling, please consult a physician or medical professional.
How to avoid it: Each injury is unique, so how long you should avoid stretching the area will be different, Martinez says. He adds that the safest course of action is to consult a physician and physical therapist who can explain the progression timeline for you specifically.
5. You're not getting support
While you can definitely get a good stretch in when you're doing it solo, Martinez recommends working with a pro to really step up the benefits. "Not asking for help could mean you miss out on results with your flexibility, range of motion, or performance," he says. Working with a coach or instructor also helps keep you accountable and allows you to tap in to their expertise and get personalized stretching recommendations based on your needs. Plus, a pro stretcher can also help you get a deeper, yummier stretch while targeting the areas that are hard to reach on your own.
How to avoid it: If your budget allows for it, working with a pro will help you up your stretching game and gain the most benefits from the practice. Or, if you want to go a more budget-friendly route, ensure you do your research and lookup videos led by experts, so you know you're doing the right stretches in the right way. YouTube is a gold mine of stretching sessions. Feeling tense from slouching at your computer all day? Try an eight-minute head, neck, and shoulder stretch. Need a post-workout full-body stretch or a cool-down stretch after a good run? There's that too. Just hit play and get your stretch on.
Start to deepen your stretching practice by checking out this quick routine to release upper body tension, below:
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