by: Su Reid-St. John, for Sharecare
To stretch or not to stretch, that is the question. Well, one of the questions. There’s also when to stretch, how to do it, how long to hold each stretch — you get the picture. When done right, it means longer, relaxed muscles. Done wrong, or not doing it at all, can mean aches, pains, and injuries.
To address common mistakes and how to correct them, we to turned to Mike Clark, DPT, Sharecare’s chief science officer and CEO of the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Mistake #1: You don’t stretch before you work out.
The fix: You do — but it’s bad to stretch cold muscles. “First, you need to release the muscles so they can be stretched,” Clark says. The best way is by using a foam roller (or anything round, like a tennis ball). “It applies deep pressure to the muscle, bringing it back to its normal length,” he says, undoing the shortening and tightening that sitting, sleeping and walking around in high heels causes. Roll your calves, outsides of your thighs, upper butt and upper back.
Mistake #2: To get more out of the stretch, pulse or bounce a bit.
The fix: There’s a reason basic stretching is known as static stretching — you’re meant to stay still. Why shouldn’t you pulse when you stretch? “Everyone has muscle imbalances, which cause scar tissue to form in the muscles,” says Clark. “That tissue is like glue. When you bounce, your nervous system makes you go around that scar tissue, so the parts that need to get stretched don’t get stretched.”
Mistake #3: The longer you hold the stretch the better.
The fix: Once you get into that stretch, there’s no need to lounge there while watching an entire episode of 30 Rock. “Research says that whether you hold a static stretch for 20, 60 or 90 seconds, the effects are the same,” Clark says. Do your 20 seconds, then move on.
Mistake #4: There’s no need to stretch post-workout.
The fix: “It’s crucial to stretch after your workout, as it makes for better recovery,” Clark says. Because you contract your muscles while you exercise, they actually get shorter — and you need to restore them to their normal length. “Otherwise, they begin to stay tight all the time,” Clark says — and that’s a recipe for aches and pains.
Mistake #5: Stretching a couple times a week is plenty.
The fix: You sit, sleep and work on your laptop (or do something else similarly body-numbing or repetitive) every day. It follows that you need to stretch every day to counteract those activities and keep your body balanced. “Take what many women go through,” Clark says. “Wearing high heels causes tightness in the calves, crossing your legs causes tightness in the abductors, sitting causes tightness in the hips, hunching over your phone while you’re texting causes tightness in the fronts of your shoulders and staring at a computer all day makes your neck tight.”
Mistake #6: I’m pretty flexible already, so I don’t need to stretch.
The fix: This brings us back to those muscle imbalances. While you may be able to touch your toes or scratch your own back, other muscles might not be so flexible. “I work with lots of pro athletes and Olympians,” says Clark. “Every single one of them can benefit from stretching.”
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