When it comes to mobility, more is not always better. Flexibility, excessive range of motion and general joint laxity may make you a more limber athlete, but it doesn't necessarily make you a better—or safer—athlete.
I am not one to downplay the importance of mobility work, though. It definitely has a place and can help immensely. With that being said, I think a lot of common stretching we see is perceived as gaining mobility or relieving pain when it is actually doing just the opposite.
Some of the most common stretches I see are actually some of the ones that are most counterproductive. The following three videos cover these all-too-common stretches and the reasons you may want to avoid them—plus, what to do instead.
Cross Body Shoulder Stretch
You've seen it a thousand times. Someone walks into gym, drops their bag and heads straight for the bench press. Of course, before their first set they have to "warm-up." So, they proceed to knock out some arm circles, shoulder rolls and then the king of all useless stretches—the Cross Body Shoulder Stretch.
I've done it. You've done it. It's a standard in today's average gym class. It's awful. Honestly, I don't know why people do this stretch. In today's slumped over, forward postured world, I don't know anyone with truly overactive rear delts. And I guess that's what this stretch is for? Who knows?
Regardless, it's time to replace it. Your upper back probably is not chronically shortened. It's more likely that it is weak and being over-powered by anterior "tightness." This stretch probably even reinforces a tight pec area, locking you even more into a rolled-over position.
Just to play fair, let's say you do need to reduce some tension in the area. It's totally possible that one may feel discomfort in the area for several reasons and would want to alleviate that pain. Below is a great stretch/drill that you can replace the silly old Cross Body Shoulder Stretch with.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
The most commonly "tight" muscle I get complaints about is the hamstring group. Everyone has tight hammies. So, of course, they stretch the living daylight out of them to "loosen" them up.
While it's totally possible to have a tense or tight sensation in the areas, most of the times the actual muscles themselves are not shortened and tight. In fact, in many cases the discomfort is stemming from a lengthened hamstring position, causing weakness-based "tightness."
Ultimately caused by an extreme anterior tilt of the pelvis, fake tight hamstrings need not to be stretched. They are already being stretched and weakened by the heightening of the posterior aspect of the pelvis in which they attach to. Instead, addressing the position of the pelvis is a more effective strategy.
Use this drill below to fire up your abs, lock your hips into a more neutral position and relieve some tension in your hamstrings. Now you can work some strength back into the muscles to help stay in this pain-free position.
Traditional Hip Flexor Stretch
The traditional stretch of your hip flexors involves a hyperextended back, forward lunge and basically drives the femur forward through the front side of the hip capsule. It may feel good, but it's not stretching the muscles you need to release.
Instead of that approach, try using a 90/90 position which is a half-kneeling setup that allows you to have around 90 degrees of flexion on one knee while the other rests on the ground in a similar position. Rather than actually driving a stretch into the muscle, it's often more effective to simply activate the opposing muscle (glutes, in this case) to release the frontside tightness. The video above shows how you can truly ease that hip tightness.
- Can Static Stretching Improve Performance?
- Dynamic and Static Stretching: Which Method is Better?
- How Long to Hold a Stretch to Improve Flexibility