In Part 1 of this two-part series on stretching, Get-Fit Guy explains the 5 stretching mistakes that may be harming your body and increasing the chances for injury. Plus, you'll learn when to stretch and how to stretch for ultimate flexibility and mobility.
Believe it or not, stretching is actually a bit of a controversial topic among personal trainers and exercise professionals.
There are many varied opinions when it comes to the best time to stretch, which stretches are best, how long to stretch, or even if you should be stretching at all. I hinted at some of these issues in the episode Does Yoga Burn Calories, in which I dispelled the myth that you actually burn fat with the stretching you do in yoga class.
In the episode How to Get More Flexible, you learn that traditional stretches such as standing and reaching for your toes are really not an ideal way to truly improve your flexibility, your range-of-motion, or your mobility.
In today’s episode, which is Part 1 of a series on stretching, you’re going to learn everything else you need to know about stretching – including the top 5 stretching mistakes, plus when to stretch and how to stretch.
Mistake #1: Stretching Knots
In a recent article I wrote about mobility, I pointed out the fact that when you’re exercising frequently, your muscle fibers can easily get cross-linked, knotted, and stuck to one another in a pattern called an adhesion. Now think of these adhesions, or knots in your muscle, like a rope with a knot in the middle. If you pull on both ends of the rope, what happens? The knot gets tighter, and more difficult to untie! This is how stretching can make things worse if you have adhesions, knots, and other tissue issues.
So how do you get rid of knots? It all begins with doing soft tissue work before you launch into a stretching regimen. Soft tissue work includes things like foam rolling, deep tissue massage, using golf or tennis balls against tight knotted areas in your body, and finding (then eliminating) all those hard, adhesed areas where knots form. Once a muscle area is free of knots, it will be much safer for stretching.
I personally used to get in a car and drive to a massage therapist every single week until I learned how to do my own therapy with a golf ball, a hard, ridged foam roller I have a love-hate relationship with (a Rumble Roller), a series of lacrosse balls strung together (a Myorope) and rolling-pin like device called a MuscleTrac. Now I only need to see a massge therapist when I’ve run into a big knot that I simply can’t fix myself, which only happens about 1% of the time.
Mistake #2: Stretching with Poor Posture
Go ahead and try bending down to touch your toes. Now stop. Are you bending from the hips or is your back bent and hunched over? Now try to bend down and touch your toes again, but this time keep your back straight and look slightly forward. You can’t stretch quite as far, right?
The fact is, many people do leg and arm stretches with poor posture – meaning they simply use their back or neck to strain into the position they want to get to – which results in undue stress on the spine and the vertebra, and eventual back and neck pain, headaches, and muscle strains.
Just like when you’re lifting weights, running, swimming, or riding a bicycle, you should never be hunched over with poor posture when you’re stretching. Instead, you should be alert with a straight back, tight abs, and an activated butt. One of my favorite ways to practice this type of posture is by following the method outlined in the book Foundation by Dr. Eric Goodman.