Good Stretch? Bad Stretch? Is Stretching Dangerous?
Learn how to decide which stretches are safe or unsafe for you.
by Brad Walker | First Published January 27, 2006 | Updated November 6, 2019
Some people have seen stretches on my website and emailed me (out of genuine concern) to say that this is a dangerous stretch because their coach, trainer or friend told them so.
So, is stretching dangerous?
First, a warning!
Stretching, just like any other form of exercise, can be extremely dangerous and harmful if performed incorrectly or recklessly. But the same can be said for any type of exercise or fitness activity.
So, are there only good stretches and bad stretches? Let’s put an end to the confusion once and for all…
There is no such thing as a good or bad stretch
Just as there are no good or bad exercises, there are no good or bad stretches; only what is appropriate for the specific requirements of the individual. So a stretch that is perfectly okay for me, may not be okay for you or someone else.
Let me give you an example. You wouldn’t ask someone with a shoulder injury to do push-ups or freestyle swimming, but that doesn’t mean that these are bad exercises. Now, consider the same scenario from a stretching point of view. You wouldn’t ask that same person to do shoulder stretches, would you? But that doesn’t mean that all shoulder stretches are bad.
The stretch itself isn’t good or bad, it’s the way it’s performed and who it’s performed on that makes it effective and safe, or ineffective and harmful. To place a particular stretch into a category of “Good” or “Bad” is foolish and potentially harmful. To label a stretch as “Good” gives people the impression that they can do that stretch whenever and however they want and it won’t cause them any problems.
The specific requirements of the individual are what’s important!
Remember, stretches are neither good nor bad. Just like a motor vehicle, it’s what you do with it that makes it good or bad. However, when choosing a stretch there are a number of precautions and “checks” you need to perform before giving that stretch the okay.
- Make a general review of the individual.
Are they healthy and physically active, or have they been leading a sedentary lifestyle for the past 5 years? Are they a professional athlete? Are they recovering from a serious injury? Do they have aches, pains or muscle and joint stiffness in any area of their body?
- Make a specific review of the area, or muscle group to be stretched.
Are the muscles healthy? Is there any damage to the joints, ligaments, tendons, etc.? Has the area been injured recently, or is it still recovering from an injury?
A few precautions
If the muscle group being stretched isn’t 100% healthy avoid stretching this area altogether. Work on recovery and rehabilitation before moving onto specific stretching exercises. If however, the individual is healthy and the area to be stretched is free from injury, then apply the following to all stretches.
- Warm up prior to stretching.
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 helping to increase the body’s core temperature while also increasing the body’s muscle temperature. By increasing muscle temperature you are helping to make the muscles loose, supple and pliable. This is essential to ensure the maximum benefit is gained from your stretching.
- Stretch gently and slowly. (Avoid bouncing)
Stretching slowly and gently helps to relax your muscles, which in turn makes stretching more pleasurable and beneficial. This will also help to avoid muscle tears and strains that can be caused by rapid, jerky movements.
- Stretch ONLY to the point of tension.
Stretching is NOT an activity that was meant to be painful; it should be pleasurable, relaxing and very beneficial. Although many people believe that to get the most from their stretching they need to be in constant pain. This is one of the greatest mistakes you can make when stretching.
- Breathe slowly and easily while stretching.
Many people unconsciously hold their breath while stretching. This causes tension in your muscles, which in turn makes it very difficult to stretch. To avoid this, remember to breathe slowly and deeply during your stretching. This helps to relax your muscles, promotes blood flow and increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.
Let’s take a look at one of the most controversial stretches ever performed and see how the above would be applied.
Firstly, consider the person performing the stretch. Are they healthy, fit and physically active? If not, this isn’t a stretch they should be doing. Are they elderly, over weight and unfit? Are they young and still growing? Do they lead a sedentary lifestyle? If so, they should avoid this stretch!
This first consideration alone would most likely prohibit 25% of the population from doing this stretch.
Secondly, review the area to be stretched. This stretch obviously puts a large strain on the muscles of the hamstrings and lower back. So if your hamstrings or lower back aren’t 100% healthy, don’t do this stretch.
With the high occurrence of back pain among the population, this second consideration could easily rule out another 25%, which means this stretch is only suitable for about 50% of the population. Or, physically fit and healthy, injury free individuals.
Then apply the four precautions above and the physically fit and healthy, injury free individual can perform this stretch safely and effectively.
Remember, the stretch itself isn’t good or bad. It’s the way it’s performed and who it’s performed on that makes it effective and safe, or ineffective and harmful.
Listen to the Best Stretch, Better Stretch Audio
In this free audio presentation titled, Best Stretch, Better Stretch, you’ll learn how to decide whether a stretch is safe or unsafe for you. Plus, you’ll also learn how to choose the best stretches for your specific requirements.
To start listening to the Best Stretch, Better Stretch Audio click on the speaker image. To download the MP3, right click on the image and choose “Save Target As…”
Research and References
- Alter, M. (2004) Science of Flexibility, 3rd Edition (ISBN: 978-0736048989)
- Hotta, K. Behnke, B. Arjmandi, B. Ghosh, P. Chen, B. Brooks, R. Maraj, J. Elam, M. Maher, P. Kurien, D. Churchill, A. Sepulveda, J. Kabolowsky, M. Christou, D. Muller-Delp, J. (2007). Daily muscle stretching enhances blood flow, endothelial function, capillarity, vascular volume and connectivity in aged skeletal muscle. The Journal of Physiology, 596(10), 1903-1917.
- Kokkonen, J. Nelson, A. Eldredge, C. Winchester, J. (2007) Chronic Static Stretching Improves Exercise Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Volume 39 – Issue 10 – pp 1825-1831.
- Page, P. (2012) Current Concepts in Muscle Stretching for Exercise and Rehabilitation. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 7(1): 109–119.
- Sexton, P. Chambers, J. (2006) The Importance of Flexibility for Functional Range of Motion. International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training, 11, 3, 13-17.
- Shellock, F, Prentice, W. (1985) Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries. Sports Medicine, 2(4):267-78.
- Shrier, I. (2005) When and Whom to Stretch? Gauging the Benefits and Drawbacks for Individual Patients. The Physician and Sportsmedicine. 33(3):22-6.
- Walker, B. (2011). The Anatomy of Stretching, 2nd Edition (ISBN: 978-1583943717)
- Wikipedia contributors. (2019, October 27). Stretching, In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
About the Author: Brad Walker 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 (author page) 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 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.
Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.