Anyone will tell you that stretching has numerous and real benefits. Heavily utilized in yoga and pilates and an essential part of any physical workout, stretching has been shown to improve circulation, enhance flexibility and sports performance, improve range of motion in the joints, reduce stress, alleviate back pain, enhance muscle coordination, and increase energy levels. For people of all ages and levels of flexibility, stretching is incredibly beneficial – but only when done right. If you’re wincing in pain or feel your muscles throbbing after a stretching session, you’re probably doing one or more of the following stretching mistakes:
- You’re stretching through pain.
Stretching should not hurt – the “no pain, no gain” motto does not apply to this part of your workout. This type of exercise is designed to trigger certain pressure to a point of general tightness or mild discomfort in the worst case, but it should never be the source of muscle pain. If you’re hurting during your stretching routine, you may be stretching too intensely or stretching an injured muscle, which can cause even more damage and pain than a tear. Give the affected body area a few days to rest; if the pain doesn’t subside, consider having it checked by a chiropractor.
- You’re not paying attention to breathing.
If you’re like most people, you tend to hold your breath during stretching – a common mistake that will prevent you from seeing improvements in your flexibility and also put you at increased risk for injury. The goal of stretching is to reduce muscle tension, not increase it – and people constantly find themselves in a permanent state of inhalation that causes the overuse of supplemental respiratory muscles. By taking deep breaths through the nose without allowing the rib cage to rise and then exhaling fully until the ribs come down, you will be able to reduce excess tone, improve posture, and make the most of your stretching routine.
- You skip it after workout.
With your muscles stiff and your heart pounding after workout, the last thing you want to do is stretch and cool down. You fear that stretching will put even more pressure on your already-sore muscles – and if you somehow convince yourself to do it, you believe a few toe touches and flat backs will do the trick. In reality, it is actually the stretching that will help your body recover and restore your range of motion. After an intense workout routine, muscles are left in a shortened state, and you may feel some areas of your body are overly tight. A 5-minute cool down routine will help you to gradually relax, slow down your heart rate, and regain flexibility.
- You’re not monitoring the pressure placed on ligaments and joints.
Your ligaments and joints are responsible for keeping your bones together, thus not monitoring how much pressure you place on these parts when performing stretching exercises may result in excessive ligament looseness and increased risk for injury. To prevent this, perform a light warm-up before stretching in order to raise your body temperature, which in turn will help loosen up the ligaments, tendons, and joints, and prevent tears or rips. Also, pay special attention to your position while stretching – if you don’t know the correct way to stand, bend, and move, you will probably do yourself more harm than good.
- You’re not consistent.
Consistency is key to fitness – and stretching – success. Adhering to a consistent stretching routine in at least 4-5 days per week, if not on a daily basis, will allow you to see major improvements in flexibility, overall posture, and balance. In the long run, performing an appropriate amount of stretching exercises on a regular basis will help you prevent chronic neck, shoulder, and back pain, reduce stress levels, and increase your blood flow.
Stretching comes naturally to most people and can end up providing you huge results in terms of flexibility, but only when done right. If you are constantly in pain while stretching or notice few or no results in your flexibility, it’s a good idea to talk to your local chiropractor and find out what you’re doing wrong.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.