Stretching is one of those things that everybody knows what it is, but maybe not too much about the ins and outs of it and the myths and misconceptions that surround it.
First, let’s set the foundation – it IS important to stretch to maintain healthy joints and have appropriate mobility for physical activity. BUT, there are some myths about stretching that are good to know.
Number 1: You HAVE to stretch before you exercise.
Not likely. The idea behind this that a lot of people believe is that stretching before exercise will reduce your risk for injury. This is not proven, at least with the static stretching that is the normal ‘stretching’ you think of. Instead, you should be consistently stretching and start with dynamic stretching – which is a fancy way to say warm up.
For example, you start with a walk if you’re going on a jog. Start with some loose movement to get your blood flowing. These dynamic stretches will actually help to get your muscles ready for a workout and will increase range of motion and improve performance. If you start with static stretching, your muscles are likely to go right back to being cold and tight very quickly after you finish your stretch.
Number 2: You HAVE to hold a stretch for exactly 30 seconds.
You could – but there’s no exact amount of time that you have to hold a stretch.
You can hold a stretch anywhere from 15-60 seconds. You want moderate discomfort, but not pain, while stretching – and you should hold that until you feel comfortable, which will take different amounts of time. It may be 30 seconds or it may be 60 seconds or it may be 15 seconds.
Number 3: You can never stretch enough
You definitely can stretch too much. Stretching too much can actually irritate your muscles. If you’re feeling pain and stretching helps alleviate some of the pain, just know it’s not a long-term solution – you should focus on strengthening those areas instead. The more physical activity you do, the more you will probably want to stretch because you’re putting your muscles through more stress.
Number 4: Stretching will lengthen your muscle tissue
This is not true. When you stretch, your stretch tolerance will improve - but your muscles are not actually lengthening.
Think about bending over to touch your toes. Maybe you aren’t able to do it, but then you stretch frequently and you are then able to – you didn’t lengthen your muscles, you just improved your tolerance to the stretch.
Number 5: Stretching prevents soreness
There’s no evidence that stretching before and after exercising helps to stop post-workout aches and pains. The soreness you feel is from microtears in your muscles, so stretching will not prevent that tearing (and if stretching prevented the microtears you wouldn’t be building any muscle).
Hopefully you feel a little more knowledgeable about stretching now.
The big takeaway is that static stretching is good to do whenever, especially before and after sleep. For workouts, dynamic stretching is your best friend.