A question that I’m often asked is, “should I stretch before exercising?” The short answer is no. But stay with me if you’d like to know why……….
First up, there has been research to show that stretching before a workout does not prevent injury. So if you stretch before exercising because you think you will get hurt if you don’t, that’s likely not going to happen.
Second (and what I’m most passionate about) is that you could be stretching a weak muscle. And I’ll say it again if you haven’t read my blog before — stretching a weak muscle will only make it weaker. It doesn’t matter if it feels tight. If it’s weak and tight, that muscle needs to be strengthened, not stretched!
Third, mobility drills can help loosen you up more than stretching. Try this mobility matrix instead of stretching before your next workout.
3 Muscles You Should Not Stretch Before Exercising
So I know the world might end if you stop stretching. *sarcasm* And I’m going to tell you a couple muscles you can actually stretch in a minute. But right now, I’m going to prove to you why I call myself the Uncool Trainer. Here are three muscles that you really should avoid stretching.
Runners of the world can unite against me on this. I know that everyone’s hamstrings feel insanely tight. And if you can’t touch your toes, you immediately think you need to stretch your hamstrings.
But I am here to tell you that your hamstrings are WEAK. They need to be strengthened. If you constantly stretch or foam roll them and they seem permanently tight, it’s probably because they are hanging on for dear life.
If you’re dealing with sciatica by stretching your hamstrings, you need to read my blog about Sciatica Pain Treatment here.
Again, runners and cyclists will think I’m crazy to suggest not stretching your hip flexors. I mean, isn’t this the most popular stretch you’ve ever seen?
But guess what? Just like your hamstrings, your hip flexors are WEAK. Tight? Yes. Because we sit too much. But still weak because we never use them.
Further, you’re not really stretching your hip flexor muscles if your alignment looks like the woman pictured. You’re actually stressing out your joint capsule……and that’s not good.
If you have a hip flexor muscle that’s making a hollow, popping sound, you need to read this blog “Quieting a Popping Hip Flexor.”
Your middle trapezius muscle fibers are commonly weak. The upper trapezius muscle fibers typically overcompensate for the mid-trap. So instead of pulling your arm across your body in a mid-trap stretch,
do the ear to shoulder upper trap stretch (see below.) Then follow that stretch with pull-aparts to strengthen your mid-trap.
Muscles You Can Stretch
Sometimes you just can’t help yourself and want to stretch. So here are two stretches you can do.
Stretch and/or Tennis Ball on the Chest
Keep in mind that using a tennis ball or foam roller is equal to a poor man’s massage. They release a muscle or other soft tissue. A tennis ball is more pin pointed than a stretch. So in many cases, using a tennis ball first to calm down hyper-toned trigger points can make a stretch even more effective.
Three points to remember:
- Make sure the keep the ball above breast tissue.
- You can move the ball around. But placing the ball almost in your arm pit is usually tender, but needing the attention.
- Spend no more than 2 minutes on one muscle with the ball.
Stretch and/or Tennis Ball on the Upper Traps
Make sure to bring your ear down to your shoulder for this stretch. Do not shrug your shoulders!
Ok, so you don’t need to stretch before exercising. But you do need to warm up — walking before running; light weights before heavy lifting. And the mobility matrix in the video at the top is excellent! Spend at least 5 minutes warming up and preparing your body for your next workout.