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Good stretch? Bad stretch? How to decide for yourself

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Stretch

How many times have you been stretching after a workout, only to be told by a trainer or another fitness enthusiast that the stretch you are doing is dangerous or that stretching in general is useless? Flexibility is an essential component of overall fitness, and stretching is key to improving flexibility. But are there some stretches better than others, and are there really risky stretches? Brad Walker, a leading stretching and sports injury consultant for The Stretching Institute shares the following article to give us the answer.

Woman wearing pink stretching

Good stretch versus bad stretch

Over the last few months my inbox has been flooded with concerns about which stretches are good and which stretches are bad. In all cases someone has told the inquirer that they shouldn't do this stretch or that stretch, or that this is a good stretch and this is a bad stretch.

Some people have even seen stretches on our website and emailed me to say (out of genuine concern) that this is a bad stretch because their coach, trainer or friend told them so.

So, are there only good stretches and bad stretches? Is there no middle ground? And if there are only good and bad stretches, how do you decide which ones are good and which ones are bad?

Let's put an end to the confusion once and for all...

There is no such thing as a good or bad stretch! Just as there are no good or bad exercises, there are no good or bad stretches; only what is appropriate for the specific requirements of the individual. So a stretch that is perfectly okay for me, may not be okay for you or someone else.

Let me give you an example. You wouldn't ask someone with a shoulder injury to do push-ups or freestyle swimming, but that doesn't mean that these are bad exercises. Now, consider the same scenario from a stretching point of view. You wouldn't ask that same person to do shoulder stretches, would you? But that doesn't mean that all shoulder stretches are bad.

You see, the stretch itself isn't good or bad, it's the way it's performed and who it's performed on that makes it effective and safe, or ineffective and harmful. To place a particular stretch into a category of "Good" or "Bad" is foolish and dangerous. To label a stretch as "Good" gives people the impression that they can do that stretch whenever and however they want and it won't cause them any problems.

The specific requirements of the individual are what's important! Remember, stretches are neither good nor bad. Just like a motor vehicle, it's what you do with it that makes it good or bad. However, when choosing a stretch there are a number of precautions and "checks" you need to perform before giving that stretch the okay.

How to determine if a stretch is appropriate for you

1. Overall review

Are you healthy and physically active, or have you been leading a sedentary lifestyle for the past five years? Are you a professional athlete? Are you recovering from a serious injury? Do you have aches, pains or muscle and joint stiffness in any area of the body?

2. Make a specific review of the area, or muscle group to be stretched

Are the muscles healthy? Is there any damage to the joints, ligaments, tendons, etc.? Has the area been injured recently, or is it still recovering from an injury?

If the muscle group being stretched isn't 100 percent healthy, avoid stretching this area altogether. Work on recovery and rehabilitation before moving onto specific stretching exercises. If however, you are healthy and the area to be stretched is free from injury, then apply the following to all stretches.

  • Warm up prior to stretching.
    Warming up prior to stretching does a number of beneficial things, but primarily its purpose is to prepare the body and mind for more strenuous activity. One of the ways it achieves this is by helping to increase the body's core temperature while also increasing the body's muscle temperature. By increasing muscle temperature you are helping to make the muscles loose, supple and pliable. This is essential to ensure the maximum benefit is gained from your stretching.
  • Stretch gently and slowly. (Avoid bouncing)
    Stretching slowly and gently helps to relax your muscles, which in turn makes stretching more pleasurable and beneficial. This will also help to avoid muscle tears and strains that can be caused by rapid, jerky movements.
  • Stretch ONLY to the point of tension.
    Stretching is NOT an activity that was meant to be painful; it should be pleasurable, relaxing and very beneficial. Although many people believe that to get the most from their stretching they need to be in constant pain. This is one of the greatest mistakes you can make when stretching.
  • Breathe slowly and easily while stretching.
    Many people unconsciously hold their breath while stretching. This causes tension in your muscles, which in turn makes it very difficult to stretch. To avoid this, remember to breathe slowly and deeply during your stretching. This helps to relax your muscles, promotes blood flow and increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.

Article courtesy of Brad Walker. Brad is a leading stretching and sports injury consultant with nearly 20 years experience in the health and fitness industry. For more articles on stretching, flexibility and sports injury, please visit www.TheStretchingInstitute.com

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