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Rebecca Rowell

Stretching: Myth vs. Fact

Most everyone loves a good stretch. But what does it really do? And how can you do it right?

There's no denying a good stretch can feel great. But while stretching can help ease tense muscles, it can also cause damage if you don't do it right. So how can you do it correctly and not get hurt? It helps to take a look at some common stretching myths and misconceptions.

Myth #1: All stretches are the same

There are two distinct types of stretching:

  • Static: This is what many of us think of when it comes to stretching – you hold a pose to loosen your muscles, relax for a moment, then repeat
  • Dynamic: This type of stretching uses movement – swinging your arms in circles or rotating your hips are two examples
  • Tip: Take your time. One rule of thumb is to aim to gently hold a stretch for 30–60 seconds. That will give your muscles time to lengthen and loosen.

Myth #2: Always stretch before you exercise

Many people stretch to “warm up” cold muscles. But a wealth of new research points out that stretching — particularly static stretching — before exercise doesn't help. It may even cause injuries.

So what to do instead? Walk or jog for five to 10 minutes or jump rope for a few minutes. All will boost your body temperature and ease you into your exercise routine.

Myth #3: Stretching helps heal sore muscles

This can do more harm than good. Why? The soreness you feel after exercise is often the result of microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. Vigorous stretches can make those tears larger — and cause more soreness or even injuries.

Be sure to stretch when your body is warm from light movement. Stretch in a smooth, fluid fashion and avoid bouncing or rapid movement. Also, stay consistent — as with any exercise, you'll get the most benefits from a regular routine.

Finally, always check with your doctor before you start or change any exercise program.

Rebecca Rowell is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.