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.
Mistake #3: Stretching Imbalances
Whether it’s standing to touch the toes or lying on the back to stretch the back of the legs, it seems that stretching the hamstrings is sexy. Everybody does it. But the problem is that many people forget about the all-too-important muscles on the front of the body - the quadriceps – and even more importantly, the hip flexors higher up towards the pelvic girdle. One of the most important muscles that becomes incredibly tight when you’ve been sitting for long periods of time is the psoas (pronounced sow-ahz).
The psoas is very easy to stretch, and in just a moment I’ll tell you how, but the problem is that most people spend way too much time stretching the back of the legs and wind up with weak and noodle-like hamstrings with a very tight psoas – resulting in back pain, a shortened stride, and poor posture.
So how do you stretch the psoas? It’s easy! Stand up and lunge with one foot forward and one foot back. Now, bring both your arms overhead. Finally, lean away from the leg that is out behind you. If you do this right, you’ll feel the stretch in the front of the leg that is extended behind you, up near your groin.
Mistake #4: Stretching Stressed
One of the first things you’ll learn when you visit a yoga class is to engage in the type of deep diaphragmatic breathing I describe in the episode How to Breathe the Right Way. This is because if you breath in a stressed, shallow way while doing yoga or you grit your teeth while stretching, you wind up stretching a muscle that is tight. And this is just like trying to stretch a rubber band that just doesn’t want to stretch – you risk straining, spraining, or tearing that rubber band!
Although stretching while stressed is a bad idea, stretching is in fact a great way to reduce stress! So when you actually do stretch, be sure to take deep, relaxed, focused breaths through your nose and out through slightly pursed lips or through your nose. If you find yourself breathing shallow or breathing from the chest, then simply stop, close your eyes, and focus on relaxing and letting all your cares go away. Then keep stretching.
Mistake #5: Stretching Through Pain
Stretching isn’t supposed to hurt. But many of us hear that one of the best things to do for a sprained ankle, twisted knee, or sore shoulder is to stretch it, so we grit our teeth and stretch through the pain.
While light stretching can indeed improve blood flow to an injured muscle or joint, which can certainly assist with healing, you’d be surprised at how small of a stretch is actually necessary to induce this healing response. For example, stretching the ligaments and muscles around the knee can involve something as simple as going for a light walk, a very easy bike ride, or some low-impact marching in place. It does not require you to get into some kind of a yogi-esque position of pulling your heel all the way up to your butt until you feel shooting pain in your leg!
So while it’s OK to stretch an injured area, just remember not to stretch through pain, and remember that if a muscle is even moving at all, it is stretching – and sometimes that’s all you need!
Next week, you’ll learn the next 5 stretching mistakes. But in the meantime, if you have more questions about these first 5 stretching mistakes, then post them below or at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy.