Stretching Too Long May Cause More Harm Than Good

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Next time you get the urge to stretch your muscles, be careful about not holding the pose too long — you may be doing more harm than good.

Instead, focus on short bursts, or dynamic stretching, to get the most out of your mobility-generating routine, reports a certified strength and conditioning specialist who shared a stretching tutorial with CNN.

Credit: Nicholas A. Tonelli/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Dana Santas, a registered yoga teacher and the official yoga coach for multiple professional sports teams, including the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Lightning, gave readers a glimpse into how some professional athletes— under her tutelage — prepare for athletic performance.

For Santas, stretching is akin to an art form and antidote wrapped into one.

“For the most part, it’s good for your body, offering many benefits for muscle health and enhanced mobility, including increasing circulation and joint range of motion,” Santas wrote.

“By stretching in ways that move your body out of a habitually fixed or dysfunctional posture, you can prevent chronic tension and pain. This can be especially helpful for people who suffer chronic lower-back pain,” she shared.

But not all stretching is equal, and some people may have to update their notion of what makes an effective warm-up or cool-down routine.

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“Research shows that shorter-duration dynamic stretching is more beneficial than longer, static stretching, which can actually hinder performance,” wrote Santas.

She warned that “longer-held stretches can increase the danger of pushing too far in a stretch and causing a muscle tear or strain or, worse yet, ligament laxity and joint instability.”

Instead of holding your stretching pose for a minute or more, focus on quick, repeated stretches that give your muscle or muscles a break between each repetition. Studies have shown that dynamic stretching, instead of longer-form static stretching, can lead to performance benefits. One study discovered that, compared to people who stretched dynamically, static stretchers lost height on their vertical jump.

Santas, a yoga teacher, advises against holding stretches for longer than a minute. Credit: MobilityMaker/YouTube

Santas also recommends that you should “stretch through all planes of motion.” A simple way to do that is to imagine all the directions in which your body moves — bending back, rotating, bending forward and bending side-to-side.

When you stretch is also important, says Santas. “It’s good to stretch after long bouts of sitting at a desk or traveling, as well as before and after workouts or sport performance,” she reports. “It’s also a good idea to stretch out before retiring at night — even just a few minutes of bedtime yoga — to avoid any lingering tension that could lead to restless sleep.”

Too much sitting can be a drain on your muscles. “If you stop stretching and moving, your muscles will adapt to your sedentary lifestyle,” cautions Santas.

Just be careful not to overdo it.

“Remember that stretching is sometimes uncomfortable, but it should never evoke a level of discomfort that feels cautionary. Just the opposite: It should simultaneously feel beneficial, like a deep-tissue massage,” guides Santas.

If you’re looking for an easy way to build stretching into your daily routine, consider the Santas-approved five-minute yoga routine.

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Richard Scott

Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.