Stretching is crucial to your fitness routine, so make sure you are doing it right to reap the benefits.
There are so many ways you can bungle your fitness routine like skipping the stretch-out before and after your exercise. Either that or you’re doing the stretches wrong.
Stretching improves flexibility and ensures correct posture by lengthening the muscles. Right before your workout, stretching makes your body more pliable and less prone to injury. It stretches the muscle groups that you will use during the workout. After the workout, stretching returns these muscles to their normal length and prevents soreness. Stretching also promotes healthy blood circulation and increases stamina before and after the workout.
Some people don’t realise the importance of stretching in their fitness routine, rushing the stretch-out and plunging headlong into crunches and deadlifts. If you consider fitness as a long-term goal, below are some bad stretching habits that can be your own undoing.
- You confuse stretching with warm-up. You should do stretching exercises when the muscles are warm. Ideally, you should do a 5 to 10-minute warm-up before doing some stretching exercises so you don’t stretch cold muscles. Jog or walk or do some aerobics first before the stretch-out especially on colder days to avoid injury.
- You stretch yourself beyond the limit. Don’t push yourself too far during stretch-out thinking it will make you more flexible. If it makes you feel severely uncomfortable, don’t do it. After stretching, you should be in a better frame physically to proceed to doing more vigorous exercises, not feel calling it a day because you’re in pain.
- You perform static stretch-out prior to your workout. You know those stretching routines that you are told to hold for seconds while your body is at rest? They are called static stretches which are ideally done after the workout. Static stretching has been found to decrease performance in athletes prior to a competition and to have no effect on injury prevention. Before your workout, you should be doing dynamic stretches which involve a range of motion or quick movements to increase your body temperature and heart rate and prepare you for exercise. An example is lunge with a twist, which engages the hips, legs and core muscles.
- You do calf stretches and then wear high heels all day. Eric Cressey, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) in the U.S. and a sought-after coach for athletes, likens this to a dog chasing its tail. By wearing heels, you strain the muscles that have been stretched prior, forfeiting the benefits you’re supposed to have gained from the calf exercises you performed earlier in the day.
- You’re in the wrong position when you stretch. Incorrect body posture defeats the purpose of stretching because the proper muscle groups that need to be stretched are missed. During a stretch, the targeted muscles should feel taut, not slack. If it’s the latter, you are doing it wrong, so check your body positioning. The same muscles should loosen after the stretch.
- You hold your breath while you stretch. Many people unconsciously hold their breath while doing stretching exercises and this is definitely not good. Proper breathing is crucial during the stretch-out because it helps you relax and increase blood flow throughout your body. Be mindful of your breathing the next time you stretch. Here’s how to do it correctly: Inhale from the nose, expanding your belly and holding the breath for a second; then, exhale from the mouth.
- You bounce. If you are in the habit of bouncing during static stretching, it’s high time you stopped this because bouncing stretches your muscles too far and too fast, and you risk tearing your muscles and tendons this way. Fitness experts also warn that bouncing during static stretching can lead to decreased flexibility and increased soreness. When you stretch, gradually hold it for around 10-30 seconds, and come out of it with ease.
- You stretch an injured muscle. The human body is remarkably resilient, but when you have an injured muscle, don’t stretch it or you will only make the injury worse. If the pain does not subside after a few days, get it checked by a doctor. After recovery, gradually reintroduce mild stretching to the previously injured muscle.