5 Stretches You Can Go Ahead and Never Do Again
Skip These Stretches
You know stretching and mobility work have a ton of benefits. (It’s even the entire focus of some fitness classes.) But you still need to have a game plan when it comes to what stretches you should be doing, how you should be doing them, and what stretches and techniques to avoid.
"Stretching can be harmful if a joint is pinched, a nerve is stretched, or support structures like ligaments are stretched rather than the targeted muscles," says Rick Richey, faculty instructor at the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Stretches aren't one size fits all, but here is a handful that truly wastes your time or might even put you at higher risk of injury (including that hurdler stretch your gym teacher made you do).
You might remember this stretch from middle school gym class—and the knee pain that followed. It's the move where one leg is stretched in front and the other is bent awkwardly behind you. Bending the non-stretched leg behind your body places a great deal of stress on the stabilizing structures of the knee, says Richey, about why the hurdler stretch isn't so hot. (Check out other potential causes of knee pain, plus learn how to get rid of it for good.)
Try this instead: Lizard Pose
Sit and Reach Stretch
The sitting part is where there's a real potential for trouble with this hamstring stretch. "It's easy to try to compensate for stiff hamstrings by rounding the spine (which defeats the purpose)," says Richey. "Plus, the sit and reach also often stretches the nerves behind the knee and into the calves more than the hamstring."
Try this instead: Downward-Facing Dog
Wall-Supported Calf Stretch
Depending on the strength of your ligaments and muscles, "bending your foot against a wall might harm your arch and plantar fascia," says Richey. (Related: The Best Recovery Tools to Help Ease Plantar Fasciitis Pain)
Try this instead: Downward-Facing Dog Foot Pedal
Posterior Deltoid Stretch
In short, there's really no need for this arm-across-the-chest stretch. "I have never worked with or even seen someone with tightness or overactivity in this muscle," says Richey, and since the goal of stretching is to loosen up taxed muscles, you'd be better served taking that time to hit another stiff spot. If you're feeling a pull in your upper back when you perform this stretch, it could mean you need to work on your thoracic spine mobility. Here's why.
Try this instead: Simply skip it.
Hip Flexor Stretch
5 Steps to a Safer Stretch
Now that you know to skip the hurdler stretch and we’ve cleared up the calf-against-the-wall conundrum, follow these five pointers to make any static stretch safer, according to Brad Walker creator of StretchCoach.com.
- Assess the area to be stretched. Has it been injured recently? If so, let it recover before fully stretching it again.
- Warm up prior to stretching. Perform your flexibility routine at the end of your workout, or if you're doing it as a stand-alone workout, start with a couple minutes of walking, jumping jacks or other heart-pumping activity. This increases the temperature of muscles to ensure they are supple and pliable. (Try these stretches after every workout to bounce back quicker and stronger.)
- Stretch gently and slowly, and relax into the stretch. Avoid bouncing and quick, jerky movements.
- Only stretch to the point of tension. It should be relaxing, not painful.
- Breathe. Holding your breath increases tension, while breathing relaxes the muscles and promotes blood flow (which increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients). (Up Next: 3 Breathwork Techniques That Can Improve Your Health)