Read This Before Ever Stretching Again (and that includes for your back and sciatica pain)
Stretching can be great for your health, but there are all too many myths about stretching readily available out there. Unfortunately, if we believe too many of these stretching myths, we may not reap the maximum benefit from our stretches—and in some cases, we end up only causing ourselves pain and injury.
1. Static Stretching Gets You Ready to Exercise
Many people believe this stretching myth. Have you ever heard that you should stretch before you go running or to lift weights? Well, sitting and holding a stretch before you workout isn’t just worthless, it can actually harm you. Studies have shown that stretching before a run makes you less efficient, and it may also make you more injury prone. Instead of stretching, try some dynamic motions to warm up your muscles and get you ready to work.
2. Static Stretching is Bad
Just because something isn’t always good doesn’t mean that it’s always bad. Static stretching can be a great thing after a workout, as it can help you to cool down and improve flexibility. Instead of just hopping in the shower and leaving the gym as soon as you finish your last exercise, spend 5-10 minutes doing static stretches.
3. Stretching Will Prevent Injury
When you understand the science behind stretching and injury, you realize that stretching cannot prevent you from getting hurt. There are a lot of things that can lead to injury: improper warmups, bad technique, muscular imbalances, and occasionally pure bad luck. While stretching after exercise may be able to help you be less likely to be injured, it is certainly no magic bullet.
4. Stretching Prevents Soreness
This stretching myth is a tough one. On the one hand, a 2011 review of a number of different studies found that stretching “does not produce clinically important reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness in healthy adults.” On the other hand, a 2012 study found that stretching “probably reduces the risk of some injuries, and does reduce the risk of bothersome soreness.”
In short, the jury’s out as to how much stretching helps reduce soreness. It has a lot of other great benefits, and it may be able to help somewhat, but it at least seems safe to say that it can’t eliminate muscle soreness.
5. Flexible People Don’t Need to Stretch
No matter your current flexibility level, you shouldn’t believe the stretching myth that says you don’t need to stretch. Many people lose flexibility as they age; often because they simply don’t regularly move through their full range of motion. Taking a little time to stretch now can help you to maintain your flexibility, even as you grow older.
6. Stretch Until it Hurts
While few people actually vocalize this particular myth about stretching, a lot of people sure seem to believe it! Stretching is not the time to get aggressive, because going too hard too fast is an almost surefire way to hurt yourself.
7. Stretching is Always Healthy
With stretching, there’s often a feeling that more is always better, and that it doesn’t matter when you do it. In fact, this isn’t true, and you have to be very careful about stretching a muscle without a proper warmup. Stretching a cold muscle will get you far less of a benefit, and it can actually be dangerous. So next time you’re going to stretch, make sure that you squeeze in a light warmup first.
8. You Only Need to Stretch When You Feel Tight
It’s not a bad thing to stretch when you feel tight (although you should remember to warm up first). However, if stretching is only done as remedial work, you miss out on a number of the real benefits that stretching can bring you. Stretching works best as a part of your regular routine. Remember what they say: “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”
9. Stretch Extra Long before a Race
Some people think that just before the game or the race is a good time to do some extra stretching. And it can feel good to do a few stretches, just to have something to do. Unfortunately, you’re probably doing more harm than good. Treat your games and races just like your regular workouts. Use dynamic activities to warm up your muscles and put your joints through their range of motion. Leave the static stretching for when after the game has finished.
10. Always Stretch the Muscle that Hurts
When people have tight and painful spots that give them grief, it is common to want to stretch those areas; and that is frequently a good idea, but not always. All the muscles of the body are connected, and sometimes the true cause of tension is a complementary or opposing muscle.
If stretching the muscle that feels tight doesn’t help, try working with some of the other muscles surrounding it to see if that gives you any relief.