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  • Why Your Stretching Routine Doesn’t Work

    lunging stretch

    Stretching Just Doesn’t Work For Me

    Have you tried stretching out your sore, tight muscles to no avail? You’re not alone. I see clients every week who admit to me that they don’t even try stretching anymore because they’ve tried it in the past and it just didn’t work. Usually they tell me this while I’m recommending some stretches for them to do at home.

    I see a number of people who don’t seem to want to take any responsibility for the state of their health, they simply want me to fix them. Even so, I hate to assume the worst. So I dig. I ask a lot of questions about how often they’ve tried stretching, did they stretch before or after activities, did they stretch in the morning or at night, and most importantly I ask them to show me how they stretched and ask them if they’d describe the stretching sensation as mild, moderate, or intense. What I’ve found is that most people were either never formally shown how to stretch properly, or else they were shown incorrectly.

    Here are some common reasons that your stretches don’t work:

    • You’re stretching too far/deep – If you wait until you’re feeling a “really good” stretch to stop and hold that stretch, you’ll activating the stretch reflex.*
    • You’re stretching too quickly – This also activates the stretch reflex.*
    • You’re bouncing – Yep. Bouncing can also activate the stretch reflex.*
    • You’re not holding the stretch long enough – This can lead to a habit of bouncing (see above) or rushing through your stretching routine. Many experts suggest that you hold a stretch for 15-20 seconds.
    • You’re holding the stretch for too long – This can not only tire the muscle, it can make it weak. (muscles that are overstretched are weak)
    • You’re trying to stretch a muscle that’s already overstretched – Muscles that are overstretched are often painful, which can lead you to believe that they need to be stretched, but that is the worst thing you could do for a muscle that’s already overstretched. If you’ve been stretching a painful muscle (being careful not to activate the stretch reflex), but aren’t getting results, try stretching the muscle that does the opposite action. For instance Quads/Hamstrings, Upper back/Pecs (chest), etc.
    • You’re stretching the wrong muscles – It’s important to know why you’re stretching, because not all tight muscles need to be stretched. If you’re going to run a marathon you’ll want to stretch different muscles than if you’re getting ready to play a football game. The whole point is to get full range of motion from the muscles you need it from. Just remember, you can be too flexible and that leads to a whole other set of problems.

    *The stretch reflex is protective muscle response whereby a muscle contracts to prevent itself from being over-stretched, because over-stretching leads to muscle tears.

    Do you stretch? Do you notice a benefit from your stretching routine? Tell me about it in the comments below.