Stretching is a beneficial and important part of any balanced workout plan. When done regularly, the right type of stretching can help improve performance, increase flexibility and range of motion, and relieve stress. Whether you’ve been stretching regularly or are interested in starting, here are a few common pitfalls to avoid when it comes to flexibility fitness:
1. Not stretching enough (or not stretching at all)
This is probably the number 1 mistake that most of us make — we focus on the calorie-burning, “results-oriented” stuff like cardio and weight training and tend to neglect stretching. What you may not realize is that taking the time to stretch regularly could help you perform better overall during your workouts due to improved range of motion and postural alignment. Improved mobility can even prevent muscular imbalances.
Solution: Make stretching a priority, and schedule it in as part your regular exercise program. The exact amount of flexibility work you need will vary based on your personal goals, but most of us can benefit from stretching just a few minutes a day. (Need an easy, quick way to get started with stretching? Check out my 8-minute total-body standing stretch routine you can do anywhere, anytime.)
2. Using static stretching to warm up
Holding a stretch for a long period of time, also known as static stretching, may actually hinder — not help — your performance during some types of activity (such as sprinting, weight lifting, etc.).
Solution: Dynamic stretching, or moving through a specific range of motion with movements like arm or leg swings and hip circles, is a more effective way to prepare your muscles for a workout. Save the static stretching for after exercise or even a stand-alone stretch session.
3. Focusing on the same muscles (or stretches) over and over
Many people focus only on certain areas of the body, repeating stretches over and over. This can create an imbalance of flexibility. If you only focus on stretching your hamstrings, for example, and neglect to stretch their opposing muscle group (the quadriceps), it may eventually cause an impaired range of motion. Over time, this could lead to joint pain or even injury.
Solution: Pair your stretches, and pay attention to your body alignment. If you stretch one muscle group, for instance, be sure to spend an equal amount of time stretching the opposing muscle(s). And, if you regularly engage in repetitive motions, such as golf swings, you may needadditional balancing stretches and movements to help rebalance your body.
4. Forcing a stretch
We’ve all seen that funny guy in a movie or TV show who drops down into a split on the dance floor only to have to be carried off because he can’t stand up. While that’s an extreme example of forcing a stretch, it’s a great demonstration of how easy it is to do and how painful it can be when it happens! Forcing your body to stretch beyond its limits may seem like a good way to increase your flexibility, but there is a fine line between overdoing it and increasing your capacity. It’s important to know the difference to prevent injury or muscle damage.
Solution: Listen to your body while you stretch. Though you may feel some discomfort, you should never stretch to the point of actual pain. Learn to recognize your body’s signals, and honor your own personal endpoint to avoid overdoing it.
5. Stretching in the wrong position
Just like there is a safe way to squat, there’s also a specific way to perform certain stretches properly for maximum effect and minimal risk. Pigeon pose, for example, can cause knee strain if performed incorrectly. A more appropriate stretch may be reclining pigeon, which can be easier on the hips and knees for individuals who may not yet have the flexibility required to align the front leg and hip into the proper position for full pigeon. Working one-on-one with a trainer or closely with an instructor can help you learn and master the proper body alignment required to help you stretch safely and effectively.
Solution: Focus on proper positioning and technique before moving into a pose or posture, and avoid deeper stretches until proper technique has been mastered. Always use caution when getting into or out of a stretch.