8 Common Mistakes Most People Make When Stretching
Stretching is relaxing, pleasurable and very beneficial. But get it wrong and you’re wasting your time or setting yourself up for an injury.
by Brad Walker | First Published June 19, 2017
If you’re new to stretching and flexibility training, it may seem that stretching is pretty straight-forward: Throw your leg over a bench; lean into it; and away you go.
But… there really is a lot more to it. In fact, get it right and stretching is relaxing, pleasurable and very beneficial. But get it wrong and you’re either wasting your time, or worse yet, setting yourself up for an injury.
Below you’ll find 8 common mistakes that most people make when stretching, and more importantly, how to avoid them.
If you would like more detailed information on this topic, grab a copy of the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility; it contains an entire chapter, which covers these topics in a lot more detail.
1. Stretching an injury
Choosing the right type of stretching during your injury rehab will have a tremendous effect on the speed of your recovery, while choosing the wrong type could lead to further injury and a very slow recovery. So what type of stretching is best?
- During the first 72 hours after an injury avoid all types of stretching. Stretching during this early stage of rehab will cause more damage to the injured tissues.
- During the next 10 to 14 days ease into some light, gentle static and passive stretching exercises.
- During the next 2 to 5 weeks stick with static and passive stretching exercises, but start to include PNF Stretching.
- Once you’re over your injury and have started to regain the fitness components that were lost during the injury process, the best types of stretches to use are dynamic and active stretching exercises.
For a full definition and explanation of the different types of stretching to use during your injury rehabilitation, take a look at my in-depth article on… Stretching for Injury Rehabilitation.
2. Stretching too hard
Many people believe that to get the most out of their flexibility training they need to push their stretching to the extreme. This may have benefits with strength training and even cardiovascular training, but not with stretching. Let me explain why.
When the muscles are stretched too hard or to the point of pain, the body employs a defence mechanism called the stretch reflex (or myotatic reflex). This is the body’s safety measure to prevent serious damage occurring to the muscles, tendons and joints. The stretch reflex protects the muscles and tendons by contracting them, thereby preventing them from being stretched.
So to avoid the stretch reflex, avoid pain. Never push the stretch beyond what is comfortable. Only stretch to the point where tension can be felt in the muscles. This way, injury will be avoided and the maximum benefits from stretching will be achieved.
For a more detailed explanation of how the stretch reflex works, take a look at my article… Understanding the Stretch Reflex.
3. Not holding the stretch long enough
For static and passive stretching, some text recommend holding the stretch for as little as 15 seconds. This is a bare minimum. 15 seconds is only just enough time for the muscles to relax and start to lengthen. For any real improvement to flexibility, each stretch should be held for at least 30 to 60 seconds, and repeated at least two or three times.
4. Doing the same stretch over and over again
Including a variety of stretching exercises in your training program is very important for avoiding muscle imbalances. While an athlete may go to the gym every day, no intelligent athlete would do the same set of exercises every day, day after day. The same approach applies to flexibility training; while it is okay to do flexibility training every day; it’s not a good idea to do the same stretches every day, day after day.
5. Trying to stretch everything
As a general rule; if it’s not tight and it’s not causing you any problems, you don’t need to stretch it. There are a few exceptions to this (such as athletes that require increased flexibility for their chosen sport), but for most people this is a wise rule to follow.
So if you perform a stretch and you don’t feel any tension in the target muscle group, this would indicate that you’re not tight in that area.
As you start to notice which muscles are tight and which muscles aren’t, aim to create a balance of flexibility between the front of your body and the back of your body, and the left side of your body and the right side of your body. For example, if you notice that your right hamstring muscles are tighter than your left hamstrings muscles, work on the right hamstring muscles until you have even flexibility in both.
For more details on why trying to stretch everything is a bad idea, watch my recent video… The Full-Body Stretching Routine Myth.
6. Stretching cold
Trying to stretch muscles that have not been warmed up, is like trying to stretch old, dry rubber bands; they may snap.
Warming up prior to stretching does a number of beneficial things, but primarily its purpose is to prepare the body and mind for more strenuous activity. One of the ways it achieves this is by increasing the body’s core temperature while also increasing the body’s muscle temperature. This helps to make the muscles loose, supple and pliable, and is essential to ensure the maximum benefits are gained from stretching.
For more information on how to warm up properly, take a look at my article… Warm Up Exercises and Stretches.
7. Holding your breath
Many people unconsciously hold their breath while stretching. This causes tension in the muscles, which in turn makes it very difficult to stretch. To avoid this, remember to breathe slowly and deeply during all stretching exercises. This helps to relax the muscles, promotes blood flow and increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles.
8. Looking for a quick fix
When someone starts a diet, they understand that it’s going to take time before they see results. Likewise, when someone starts going to the gym, they understand that it’s going to take time before they start getting stronger. And the same is true with stretching.
Doing a few simple stretches before playing your sport or going to the gym isn’t going to make you any more flexibility. If you want to see improvements in your flexibility, there are no shortcuts, you need to engage in regular, consistent flexibility training over the long term.
To do away with stiff, tight muscles and joints, and improve your full body mobility and freedom of movement, grab a copy of the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility (Handbook, DVD & CD-ROM).
In total, they include 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretching exercises for every major muscle group in your body. Plus, over 80 printable stretching routines for 22 sports and 19 different muscle groups.
The DVD also includes 3 customized stretching routines (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core, plus a bonus CD-ROM that allows you to print out over 80 stretching routines that you can take with you wherever you go.
The Handbook and DVD will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly. Check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility for yourself.
About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.