Phoning in your stretching is just one of the key stretching mistakes that you might be making, costing you time and effort.
Scene: It’s early. Like, the sun’s just rising, early. You climb out of bed to tackle a dawn patrol run, and the absolute last thing you want to do before hitting that stride is stretch—especially when coffee’s on the other side of those morning miles. But, well, you must.
While stretching can sometimes feel like a giant time suck, it’s also super beneficial. Research shows that getting limber within 15 minutes of physical activity can stave off injury.
“Without stretching, the muscles become tightened and short,” says Adam Rosante, a strength and nutrition coach based in New York. “Improving your flexibility with daily stretching allows you to maintain a full range of motion in your joints. That’ll allow you to get into proper positioning for exercise and avoid muscle imbalances and injuries down the road.”
But while stretching's important, it's also something of an art form. Do it properly and you'll discover untold beauty in the way you move. Do it wrong and you look sloppy—and you could end up injured. So are you getting bendy in the right ways? Here are the mistakes the experts see most often.
#1: You’re Only Static Stretching
There are two types of stretching you should know: dynamic and static. Dynamic stretches are fluid and incorporate movements that warm up the joints. Static stretches are designed to be held still, providing deep work on a muscle or joint that’s challenging. Before a workout, your stretches should always be dynamic. These will help increase your range of motion and elevate your core temperature in preparation for effort.
“A dynamic warm-up will effectively prepare your body for your workout,” says Amy Opielowski, senior manager of quality and innovation and instructor for CorePower Yoga. “I always suggest a warm-up that consists of movements that mimic the workout and prepare the body for stress, like cat-cow or lunges. Those preview movements decrease stiffness in the body by increasing blood flow and circulation.”
#2: You’re Skipping Your Cool-Down Stretch
Some of your deepest stretching will occur once your muscles are totally warmed up. Plus, by stretching after a workout, you'll also likely reduce the occurrence of delayed onset muscle soreness, especially in the legs. “Take your chance to pause, stretch, and breathe into all of your hard work,” says Opielowski. “Post-workout stretching soothes your neuromuscular system, reduces stiffness, and goes a long way to help you prepare for your next workout.”
#3: You’re Not Stretching Often Enough
Just as you spend time building strength, you need to also invest time on increasing your comfortable range of motion. Otherwise, that strength is for naught (especially when you're injured).
Stretching before and after exercise is great, but you'll do your body a great service if you take it one step further by adding a couple quick moments of stretching throughout your day. “You move every day,” says Rosante. “You should stretch every day, too.” One quick routine that Rosante suggests is to perform yoga sun salutations for five minutes, holding each position for five breaths.
#4: You’re Bouncing
You may think you’re doing your tight tissues a favor, but bouncing during a stretch can actually be detrimental. “When you bounce, you're pushing your muscles and tendons past the point that they're used to moving,” says Lindsey Clayton, trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp. “It's OK to feel tightness in your muscles but you should never feel pain.”
So sure, go deep with those stretches. But ease into them and make sure everything feels safe and protected as you move.
#5: You’re Rushing It
”It may be rough, but you’ve got to hold the stretch long enough to settle into the discomfort and find stillness,” says Rosante. He suggests holding each stretch for 10 seconds— inhaling for the first five and exhaling for the last five. As a bonus, you'll receive a micro-hit of meditative clarity and confidence. “If you stretch your body, you strengthen your mind.”
Want a no BS shortcut to extreme fitness? Download the Get Fit Fast Program.