5 Ways You're Stretching Wrong (And Risking Injury)

Health & Wellness By Karla

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Stretching is extremely important, but without knowing how to do it properly, you're not only defeating the whole purpose this activity has to offer, but you're also risking injury and further physical complications. Here are the most common stretching mistakes and how to fix them.

Curving Your Spine

Almost everyone who starts a new stretching routine wants two things: to get into a split and to be able to touch their toes. And even though neither can happen overnight, doing it wrong can set you even further back, as you're using completely wrong muscles to compensate for your lack of flexibility.You can see examples of bad forward folds simply by paying attention to the person's spine. Yes, they might be touching their toes, but their spine is completely round, their shoulders are up close to their ears, and they're pulling on their legs like they're holding on for dear life.Doing this same motion over and over again will not yield any progress over time and it's also a great prerequisite for pinched nerves, prolapsed disks, and muscle tears, not to mention complete misalignment of the hips and shoulders.

How to fix it:Instead of doing everything you can to touch your toes, focus on extending and elongating your spine with your breath. Use your inhales to stretch your spine from your sitting bones all the way to the crown of your head, and exhales to go deeper into the pose.Your goal is to bring your torso onto your thighs and remove that big gap you get from curving your spine and grabbing your feet. Keep your knees bent as long as your body needs it, as only then, you'll be able to see and track real progress over time.

Not Using and Utilizing Your Breath

Many people have the tendency to hold their breath when stretching gets tough, and although they feel like they're pushing through it and holding on more easily, they're actually doing the complete opposite and not allowing oxygen to enter those hard-working muscles and supply them with nutrients they need to actually stretch out.

How to fix it:Stretching, especially in some poses, requires more control and breathwork than others, and that's when you need it the most. To begin, separate your inhales from your exhales and learn how to use each of them properly.Inhales elongate, open, and bring oxygen in. Exhales close, contract, and take you deeper into the pose. Focusing on this dual motion every time you take a breath is crucial to help your muscles stretch and extend, finding progress if you're staying consistent.

Missing The Hip-Knee-Ankle 90° Angle

There are many ways to stretch your legs and either focus on one muscle group (such as only your quads, hamstrings, glutes, or calves) or perform a full-lower body move which will target more muscle groups at the same time.One of the most common stretching mistakes involves the infamous lunge pose, where the hip-knee-ankle alignment should be at a 90° angle. Problems start happening once the knee starts going inwards or outwards and stops tracking the hip line, as well as when the knee surpasses the vertical line from the ankle and goes over, putting a lot of pressure on the ligaments at the front part of the knee.This can cause severe ligament pain and tendon and muscle strains as your body works hard to compensate for your wrong body alignment.

How to fix it:When entering lunge pose, pay attention to your alignment and make sure you're keeping a perfect 90° angle at all times. If your flexibility doesn't allow it, your thigh doesn't have to be parallel to the floor, but your knee should always be in line with your hip and your ankle should always be right below your knee.If you're not sure whether or not you're aligned, use a mirror to check your posture and correct accordingly.

Shoulders Too Close To Ears

Many people compensate for their lack of shoulder flexibility by bringing their shoulders way too close to their ears when they're lifting their arms. This can only cause more tension in your upper back and neck, potentially pinching nerves and straining the muscles of your neck.This is most commonly seen in backbends, where creating the space for your neck and shoulders is of the utmost importance in order for the chest and front body to expand and stretch, reducing the compression in your lower back.

How to fix it:The only real way to fix this issue is to purposely drop your shoulders down whenever you're in a position with your arms over your head. Take a deep inhale and on your exhale drop them down, sending them away from your ears and creating that much-needed space for your neck.If positions where your arms are lifted and your palms are together makes it unable for you to drop your shoulders, separate your arms to shoulder-width distance and try again. This should make it way easier.

Going Past Your Limits

Almost everyone wants to see progress overnight and feels frustrated when after months of diligent stretching, they can't notice any major changes. This often makes them go past their bodies' limits and forces their muscles into positions they're not yet ready for.Unfortunately, this can lead to severe tendon, muscle, and ligament injuries as your body works hard to compensate for the lack of flexibility and mobility. Consequently, this can cause a need to abstain from stretching altogether so once you come back to your routine, you'll be back where you started from, or worse, depending on your injury level

How to fix it:In order to prevent this from happening, listen to your body and respect its limitations. Focus on proper alignment, utilize your breath, stay consistent, and be patient. Slowly, but surely, you'll be able to see and feel yourself getting more flexible and mobile.

Are you guilty of making some (or all) of these mistakes? Now's your time to fix them and get to stretching!

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