Keeping limber is vital to preventing injury, but make sure you do it right. Some stretches just aren’t worth it. – By Markham Heid for Prevention
Research suggests stretching is a great way to maintain balance and freedom of movement, especially as you get older.
But not all stretches do your body favours. In certain situations – especially right before exercising – some forms of stretching can hamper your performance or increase your risk for a pull or tear.
“Prolonged stretching – or more than 60 seconds per muscle group – could decrease performance before some activities,” says David Behm, PhD, a professor of human kinetics at Canada’s Memorial University.
Here are five stretches you should reconsider – or avoid altogether.
1/ Sit-and-reach stretches before running
All those toe-grabbing stretches you were taught as a youngster? If you’re a runner, they may be hurting your performance.
Those sorts of “static stretches” may decrease your running economy – that is, your ability to stride with minimal effort, finds a recent study of Behm’s appearing in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. Static stretching also limits your jumping ability, his study shows.
While taut, un-stretched hip and upper-leg muscles help your legs snap back when you stride or leap, stretched muscles lack the same springiness—and so can leave you feeling tired earlier during a long run, his research suggests.
2/ Stretching to prevent muscle injuries
Not to pick on old-school static stretching, but this kind of preworkout warm-up doesn’t lower your risk for muscle pulls or similar injuries, finds a review study appearing in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.
While that study came out back in 1999, several newer research efforts have come to similar conclusions.
While sit-and-reach stretching can increase your flexibility – helpful for sports like gymnastics or football, which require side-to-side movements and greater range of motion – it doesn’t safeguard your muscles from injury if you’re a runner, swimmer or cyclist, more research shows.
3/ Stretching to prevent soreness
If you spend 15 minutes stretching in the hopes of preventing post-workout soreness, you may be wasting your time. Stretching before exercise doesn’t do anything to reduce muscle soreness, according to a BMJ study.
4/ Stretching before strength training with weights
Strength training is essential, but by elongating muscle tendons, static stretching may put your muscles at risk during exercises that require you to move or support loads – such as weight lifting. Stretching may also mess with the stability of your joints, leaving them open to injury.
All of that’s according to a study from the CDC. While the study’s authors are quick to point out there are many unanswered questions when it comes to stretching and injury rates, they say there’s no clear benefit when it comes to static stretching and resistance training.
5/ “Ballistic” stretching
Imagine reaching for your toes or bending forward to stretch your lower back. When you’ve reached or bent as far as you can, you may have been taught to pull back for a second and then reach again in order to extend your range of motion.
This practice is usually called “ballistic stretching” or “bouncing,” and it may increase your risk of injury, argues research from the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. Because of these risks, the American College of Sports Medicine does not recommend this type of stretching. Full stop.