Stretching your muscles before and after your workout will not only mean a safer, more effective workout, it will also work to improve your overall mobility and flexibility. This means better posture, fewer injuries, and an all-round lovelier life. But before you plonk down on a mat, here are a few things NOT to do when you’re stretching.
This is the gym, this isn’t ballet or gymnastics training. You’ve probably seen horrific videos like this where young gymnasts and dancers are put through some brutal stretches in order to mould their young bodies. And while we can’t deny the results as they all seem able to get their legs behind their heads, think of their lifestyle. Dancers and gymnasts will do these stretches, then continue with hours and hours of training. Whereas most of us will be sat at a desk or in front of the TV within minutes of leaving the gym.
Stretching for us average Joes should never really pass about 70% of your capability. The purpose is to lengthen and stretch the muscles, not break them. Not only will that cause you all sorts of horrible injuries, but they’re not likely to be effective as broken muscles repair bigger and shorter (as in weight training) making you actually less flexible.
Stretching “cold” muscles
There are certain types of stretches that are good to do before you exercise, and these extreme stretches are not them. Dynamic stretches, simulating the movements you’re about to perform, are a good way to warm up cold muscles and prepare for your workout.
Imagine stretching a cold elastic band. Stretching it past its limits and holding it there is very likely to cause it to snap. And that’s what will happen to you. Muscles and ligaments that are stretched beyond their limit without a proper warm-up will snap and cause some really painful injuries.
Holding your breath
When you see people bent over in the gym, faces red and contorted because they’re pushing through the pain to stretch further, this shouldn’t really fill you will confidence. If a stretch is so painful and difficult that the body is sacrificing breathing – which you may recall is kind of important in order to, you know, stay alive – then it’s probably not going to give you the best results.
In fact, it might even do the opposite.
If you’ve ever been to a bendy yoga class you’ll often hear the teacher telling you to breathe into the stretch. Holding a stretch at a level where you’re able to take in a deep, comfortable breath means that your muscles will be able to relax and lengthen, rather than tense and contract in fear of dying.
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