As a kid I remember hearing a coach of mine tell a teammate that if he bounces when he stretches he’s going to tear a muscle. So, naturally, for years after, I never moved while stretching. And for athletes around the world, stretching before a workout is commonplace, yet is that the best thing for your body?
Stretching has its benefits from providing your body with a better range of motion, strengthening your joints and providing better blood circulation throughout your body. While stretching won’t prevent injury, what it does is put your body into a healthier position to manage awkward - and common - movements where you might normally pull, strain, tear or rip a muscle, tendon or ligament.
As with any workout, movement or fad, stretching comes with its own myths, and frankly it’s time that some are busted. Today, I’ll be looking at stretching myths that you likely still think of as fact. Luckily, when it comes to stretching, most myths have a strain of truth, but if you want to be a better athlete, it’s better to know the whole truth.
I only need to stretch before I work out:
Who hasn’t heard this myth before? If you ever played a sport or even attended you gym class as a kid you more likely than not started your day by stretching. Of course back then, few kids gave more than a half effort and even if you went full out, a young limber body is less likely to be injured than your 30+ self trying to get back into shape.
So, why is this a myth? Studies have shown that it is important for the body to warm up a little before stretching. Before you start your workout your body is probably stiff and lacks the full range you will need to perform your stretches. By stretching with stiff muscles and joints you are more prone to injury than if your body is already warmed up.
It’s better to start off with a light cardio exercise to get the blood flowing through your body. A slow jog on the treadmill or elliptical is great, but any light exercise where you can use slow and steady movements will help. Then, once warmed up, feel free to stretch.
Don’t bounce or you’ll tear a muscle:
To understand this myth you must understand that there are different types of stretching: static and dynamic. And yes, this half-truth is accurate, during static stretching you can injure yourself by bouncing if you stretch.
Static stretching: Static stretching are those stretches you likely grew up with and everyone is aware of. Any stretch where you hold your body in a position for a set period of time before returning to a normal body position is considered static.
Dynamic Stretching: While you probably think of static stretching when you hear the word stretch, you’ve likely been practicing dynamic stretching since the same time. Think high-knees, arm circles, and skipping.
Understanding both forms of stretching will help you understand that movement during stretching can be helpful - if you are performing the right stretch for movement. Slow and concentrated arm circles will help your shoulder muscles, yet if you are performing a quad or calf stretch, you can injure yourself by bouncing around.
I can’t over stretch:
While rare, overstretching is possible and the difficult part is you may not know you’ve overstretched until after the fact. An obvious sign is muscles that appear lax instead of toned. While tears in muscles, ligaments and tendons can occur, for most athletes the problem is joint instability which can lead to extreme injuries.
It’s important to understand your limits when stretching, and while you want to be able to provide a comfortable stretch, you don’t want to get to the point of tear muscles. Remember that stretching helps to loosen your muscles for flexibility and mobility, not damaging the muscles for growth as you do in weight training.
The best way to avoid overstretching is to practice dynamic stretching, and when static stretching make sure your movements are slow, fluid and not adding more stress than necessary.
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Tobias Young is an IFBB pro and top tier online fitness coach with over 19 years of fitness industry experience.