You’re Probably Stretching All Wrong

When you stretch pre or post workout, you probably bang out a quick lunge, a quad stretch, some skips and twists and maybe a quick toe touch. In and out, because no one really wants to take the time to stretch, right? We want to start the workout and get it over with so we can go back to the sweat-free comfort of our busy lives.

But have you been injured recently? Is your body feeling more stiff and less sprightly than it once was? It’s not just your advancing age. It’s your body hardening from neglect. In reality, stretching is hugely important. Ask my dog, he stretches indulgently every time he stands up. But not us. The majority of us halfheartedly force our cold muscles into a series of contorted positions for 5 seconds apiece and consider ourselves “stretched”. Not only is that ineffective, it can also be injurious.

Rather than seeing warm-ups and stretching as optional, it’s important to realize that your stretching sessions should really be a workout unto themselves. Here are the 4 golden rules for truly effective, life-changing stretching:

Keep warm

It’s virtually impossible to effectively stretch cold fascia and muscle tissue. That’s why massage tables are well heated and why people generally save deep stretching for after a sweaty workout. So, before you settle into your daily stretch session, get warm. Wear 4 layers, pump up the thermostat and do a little cardio. You want your internal body temperature to be as warm as possible in order to facilitate the lengthening and loosening of muscle and fascial tissue. If you stretch cold, you are actually stressing your tendons and muscle fibers rather than encouraging lengthening. Over time, this can cause weakness and painful tears. No bueno.

Related: 6 Easy Stretches to Do in the Morning to Feel Great All Day

Group of young sporty people in extended triangle pose

Roll, roll, roll your bod!

If you feel like your movement is already constricted, regular stretching will not be effective on its own. Sometimes our feelings of tightness and compression can originate from bound-up fascia. Fascia is a malleable web of connective tissue that surrounds everything in the body like a big rubber scuba suit. And it’s pretty incredible. It can change texture and thickness, transmit internal messages and even has an emotional memory.

Because fascia is so complex and tricky, there should be no more important tool in your wellness arsenal than a foam roller. It’s the cheapest massage you’ll ever get and it’s actually effective. Foam rolling manually pins and lengthens the muscle fibers, encouraging knots to loosen, blood flow to increase in constricted areas, and lymph and and lactic acid to be circulated. As for fascia, it can smooth out bound areas that have thickened and stiffened due to stress. If you have a particularly unresponsive area, a tennis ball can offer even more specific relief to help unstick the muscle fibers and thick patches of fascia. Yes, it is uncomfortable, but you are in charge of how much weight you put on the roller/ball. Be smart and breathe deep and you will do some real good.

Related: How to Master Foam Rolling

Practice conscious muscular release

Think of it as meditation. Think of it as relaxation. Whatever you call it, your mind plays a huge role in reducing tension throughout your body. While holding a stretch, practice deep breathing and visualize the area of tightness and discomfort relaxing. It can take anywhere from 10 to 90 seconds for this to occur, but you will feel a subtle, physical release in your muscles. Consciously working to visualize muscular release can make your stretches deeper and longer-lasting. The mind and the body are wholly intertwined.

Related: Stretching May Be the Undervalued Key to Youth

Playful Businessman Laying on Table

Move in all the directions

Stretching and range of motion are not the same thing. To maintain kinesthetic health, you need to consciously and actively focus on moving your body through ALL directions of available motion, not just your daily ones. As humans, we tend to be forward-focused, which means the muscles in our posterior chain get overstretched and weak while the front of our bodies becomes bound and short. It’s hard to avoid since everything we do, from sitting to cooking to working on a computer, is done in front of us. For this reason, it is important to balance out your body by working out the creaks of your backwards movement once in a while. Roll your shoulders with arms outstretched in large circles. Do small lunges to open up the hips periodically. Twist the spine and torso daily like you are wringing out a towel.

Looking for one easy exercise that will make range of motion exercise fun? Dance! Turn on your favorite song, let loose, and allow your body to move in all the directions. Pretend like you have paint brushes on your hands, feet and the crown of your head and make an imaginary Jackson Pollock all over your room. Seriously, it’s even more fun than it sounds.

While you don’t have to become regimental about stretching, a regular stretching schedule can improve your life dramatically. No more back pain. No more knee stiffness. No more computer posture. Stretching is simple, easy, feels good and can instigate tremendous changes in the health of your body.

Related on Care2:

73 comments

Clare O
Clare O'Beara1 months ago

Nothing but ads for sex related articles again. Care2, I never click on those so you would think the computer would have spotted that it's a waste of time showing them to me.

SEND
Clare O
Clare O'Beara1 months ago

I would not be stretching like the top guy anyway.

SEND
Marija M
Marija M1 months ago

tks for posting.

SEND
William C
William C1 months ago

Thank you.

SEND
Kelly S
Past Member 1 months ago

thanks

SEND
Tanya W
Tanya W2 months ago

Yep that first stretch is a doozy and I won't be completing it...😯

SEND
Tanya W
Tanya W2 months ago

Thank you

SEND
Chrissie R
Chrissie R2 months ago

Thank you for posting.

SEND
Clare O
Clare O'Beara2 months ago

agreed you need to be warm and to have warmed up properly

SEND
Camilla V
Camilla Vaga2 months ago

thx

SEND