Over the past many years of working with a various range of people from housewives to runners to gym freaks, I have realized that stretching means different things to different people. There can be myths around it, a general lack of awareness, or just incorrect techniques. In spite of tons of research around it, I still find myself educating people about the do’s and don’ts. Stretching the right way is crucial because a lack of stretching or incorrect technique can mean either causing an injury or aggravating an ongoing one.
THE MOST COMMON MISTAKES YOU COULD BE MAKING
1. Not knowing the difference between the types of stretching and when to use which one correctly
Stretching can either be static (holding for few seconds) or dynamic(with movement). Both are great ways to stretch but it is important to know when to use which one. All research agrees that dynamic stretches should be done before a physical activity as a part of warm-up whereas static stretching should be done as a part of cool down after the workout. Dynamic stretching should be movements that warm up the muscles that you are about to use (before) and static stretching should be a position held for 20 to 30 seconds designed to cool down the muscles used and also the body in general(after). Interchanging this can cause injuries. Still, I find a lot of people doing static stretches before their sporting activity. This can cause tears in the muscle or tendon since the body is not warm yet.
2. Not stretching enough or Not At All!
Those who do any kind of workout without stretching can get tight muscles causing pain, bad posture, and overall stiffness. Stretching if not adequate can also contribute to injuries, maybe not the first time but over time. Often I find that people will hold static stretches for only a few seconds when in fact this serves no purpose. For any muscle to lengthen and relax at least 20 seconds are required. Any less than this does not give any benefit.
When I see someone bouncing while stretching it makes me cringe! Most injuries like muscle or tendon tears occur due to bouncing. Bouncing means you go back and forth while stretching instead of gently taking it to end range and holding. When you bounce, instead of elongating, the muscle shortens and expands too quickly leading to a tear or strain. A stretch should be done slow and sustained, gently to the end range of the particular muscle group, and held without bouncing at the end. Only then is it effective.
4. Aggressively stretching an active injury
When there is an active injury and especially if there is swelling, this may not be the right time to stretch. It may be the time to let the injury heal for the first 24 to 48 hours with an ice pack and rest. Instead, I find that some may stretch so aggressively immediately after the injury that it leads to further damage. If in doubt consult a medical professional about your injury so that you understand when it is appropriate to start stretching again.
5. Doing it at the wrong time
Stretching first thing in the morning out of bed and stretching without warm-up are classic mistakes. When your body is cold and stiff such as first thing in the morning if you stretch it can predispose you to a pulled muscle. Ideally, you should wait for an hour, move around a bit, and then stretch. The same applies to stretching before a warm-up. Once the body is warm either with a few jumping jacks or a walk then stretching will give you much better results.
6. Not doing enough
Stretching enough means stretching with
2. Sufficient Repetitions, and
3. Taking the stretch to end range
- Consistency: I find that not everyone stretches consistently. Sporadically done stretching doesn’t really work in gaining flexibility or mobility. Consistency is everything when it comes to stretching. Stretching after every workout, every day or on designated days of the week can help you more than just randomly stretching when you think about it. It may just not be enough.
- Sufficient repetitions: If you are doing only 1 repetition then this is quite useless. I find that a stretch held for 20 to 30 seconds repeated three times has the best result.
- Taking the stretch to end-range: If you are stretching while distracted, good chances are that you haven’t taken the muscle to end range- meaning take the stretch till you begin to feel an intense stretch not pain, and then hold it. If you are holding the stretch midway or before end-range then you have just wasted your time.
7. Holding your breath
There is nothing scarier than this to me, maybe because I have seen a fair share of hernias and diastasis recti originating from a workout done while holding breath. It is absolutely a must to keep breathing slowly and rhythmically during a stretch to get the benefit from the stretch but also to make sure you don’t injure something irreversibly.
8. Not doing specific stretches for your activity
Not every stretching routine applies to everyone; there shouldn’t be a cookie-cut approach to stretching. What applies to your friend may not apply to you and vice-versa. There can be a few common stretches but your stretching program should be tailored to your activity of choice and your body type. For example, if you run and your friend swims, the stretching routine should vary greatly. You could ask your physiotherapist to guide you with this so that the routine gives you maximum results for your effort and time.
9. Not understanding what you are exactly stretching
This is a very common mistake; most people stretch on automation, not really feeling the stretch, not really knowing what exactly is getting stretched. This is futile. I am not asking you to become a pro at anatomy; all I am asking is to pay attention to where you feel the stretch- it doesn’t have to be the name of the muscle, just the exact area of stretch. For example, when you do a quadricep stretch, pay attention to which area of the front of the thigh are you feeling the most stretch, focus on it, put your mind into it and you will feel the muscle elongating more easily.
If you are stretching then do it Right; Don’t waste your time and effort; Make sure you are not hurting yourself while doing it. Let the stretching help you get fitter, not injured!
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