Sure, you know that you should be stretching, but should you stretch before or after your workout? And should those stretches be static or dynamic? Chances are, you’re probably not stretching properly, so to separate fact from fiction, we turned to a stretching expert — Aida Yahaya, founder of Good Stretch (opens in new tab).
According to Harvard Health (opens in new tab), stretching is important when it comes to keeping the muscles flexible and strong. If you don’t stretch, your muscles can shorten and become tight. When you then require that muscle to work hard — for example when you’re out on a run or in the gym — the tight muscle will be unable to extend all the way, putting you at risk of joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
Yet if your stretching routine is a few static calf stretches before you jump in the shower at the end of a run, you might not be doing things right. Read on to find the five stretching mistakes you’re probably making. Looking for more recovery tools? Check out the best foam rollers and the best massage guns on the market here.
Here are 5 stretching mistakes you’re probably making:
1. Stretching cold muscles
“Yes, you actually need to warm up before you stretch,” Yahaya explains. “A pre-stretching warm-up will increase your body’s core temperature to make muscles more pliable and generate blood flow to the surrounding muscles and connective tissue, reducing your risk of injury and allowing you to stretch more effectively.”
This doesn’t have to be too extensive — think about doing a few gentle yoga moves before you start stretching, or heading out for a gentle walk, then stretching when you get back.
2. Overstretching the muscles
Yahaya’s golden rule when it comes to stretching? It should never be painful. “You may feel slightly uncomfortable during a stretch, but it should never hurt,” she explains. "Take care to not push your body past its limits, and always stay in your natural range of motion. If you notice tightness in one muscle area, repeat your stretches multiple times without pushing too hard — if need be, change to a different stretch that tackles the same area without tightness before trying again.”
Like with all activities, if you’re completely new to stretching, start slowly and build up. Whether you’re doing dynamic stretches or static stretches, be sure to mix up your routine and not just stretch the same muscles.
3. Bouncing while stretching
Something Yahaya never wants to see anyone do? Bouncing while holding a stretch. “Bouncing while stretching can actually be detrimental as it can cause muscles and tendons to tear,” she says. “A bouncing motion can trigger the muscles in your body to tighten in an attempt to protect and can also cause you to stretch too deeply leading to a higher likelihood of sprains, strains or tears.”
Instead of bouncing, Yahaya recommends gradually elongating into the stretch. For example, if you’re doing a forward fold and stretching your lower back, don’t bounce your fingertips down to your toes; just hold it as far as you can go for 10 to 15 seconds, release and repeat. Next time see if you can reach further, but don’t worry too much if you can’t.
4. Holding your breath as you stretch
“Never hold your breath while stretching, this tightens your muscles and causes them to be less flexible,” Yahaya warns. “Instead, take long, slow breaths, ideally through your nose, which has the added benefit of lowering stress. You may find you can sink deeper into your stretch with each cycle of inhaling and exhaling as your muscles relax in response.”
One of the benefits of regular stretching is stress relief, so rather than thinking about your post-run stretch as something to rush through, be sure to take your time, and use it as a moment to have a breather.
5. Stretching an injured muscle
Last, but by no means least, never ever stretch an injured muscle. “If you are suffering from an injury, avoid stretching until the impacted area has fully healed,” Yahaya advises. “If you don’t, you risk aggravating your injury and causing further tendon or tissue damage.”
While having a good stretching routine is a good way to avoid injury, it’s best to give your body time to heal once it is injured. If you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor or physiotherapist before returning to any activity, including stretching, after an injury.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out the lower back stretch I swear by after sitting down all day.