Don't be the guy who thinks flexibility training is a set of toe touches and arm swings before and after a workout. Straighten out your stretching routine by avoiding the following eight common mistakes.
1. Rushing the Warm-Up You should warm up for the warmup, according to Calgary Flames strength coach Rich Hesketh. He says, "Spend eight to 10 minutes doing some jogging, treadmill or bike before you begin the movement prep."
2. Starting With Static Stretching Holding a stretch puts the muscle at its optimal length, which is why static stretching is better suited for post activity. "Perform active movements before activities to prepare the body for the ranges of motion you will encounter," says Jason Biles, strength coach for the Memphis Grizzlies. "Make it specific to movement for your sport."
3. Stretching in a Single Plane You shouldn't train just your muscles; you should also train multidirectional movement patterns. Biles says, "You must stretch in various directions to stretch different fibers that will be used in functional movement."
4. Bounce Stretching Form should never be sacrificed, which means no bouncing to reach full range of motion. "Flexibility isn't just increasing the range of motion; it's controlling a movement and being efficient with it," Biles says. Jacksonville Jaguars strength coach Luke Richesson adds, "Allow yourself to relax and increase your range of motion by slowly applying pressure, and you will improve your flexibility."
5. Stretching Without Purpose Simply going through the motions will get you nowhere. "Don't stretch the hamstrings just to stretch the hamstrings," Richesson says. "If you find that one leg has a shorter range of motion, focus on that leg. If you find an area that's significantly tighter, stretch that area twice as much as the opposite side."
6. Skipping the Cool Down Completing your last set and rep means you're on the clock for recovery. "The biggest mistake is that guys don't stretch post-activity," Hesketh says. "It's time-consuming, it's non-dynamic and it's not the most exciting thing to do, but if you stretch every day during the season, you'll see improvements in flexibility."
7. Overstretching Work within your own limits and know your capabilities. "Don't stretch to where it's extremely painful. That can cause trauma and actually cause the muscles to become a little tighter because of feedback from the nervous system," says Shawn Windle, strength coach for the Indiana Pacers. "Where it's slightly uncomfortable, that's where you're going to want to stop."
8. Stretching While Injured Don't get it twisted: some light stretching and other techniques can prove beneficial for minor tweaks and strains. "But if there's a muscle tear," Windle advises, "avoid stretching that particular muscle."
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