By Amber Greviskes
The Rumor: The looser you are, the better
After a yoga or Pilates class, you’re supposed to be in a blissful Zen-like state -- or so I’ve heard. That’s never actually happened to me. However, I definitely feel stronger, taller and more flexible, which is enough to keep me going back. On occasion, though, I’ve wondered: Am I really supposed to be able to stretch like that? Could I actually be overstretching?
The Verdict: You can stretch too much
“It’s definitely possible to overstretch during any fitness class,” says personal trainer Aaron Burk, the owner of Optimal Performance and Health in Chicago. “But it’s a rare occurrence, and when it does happen, we don’t usually feel it right away.”
Overstretching can involve muscles, joints or both. It occurs when the muscle or joint is pushed well beyond its normal limits. Muscles that are overstretched will appear lax instead of toned and can cause instability issues within a joint, creating problems ranging from microscopic tears in the tissues to full tears of muscles, tendons or ligaments. Joints are also more likely to become hyperextended.
To prevent overstretching and muscle damage, remember to warm up completely before you begin your workout. Brisk walking or slow jogging for about five minutes can do the trick. Dynamic stretches like arm circles, leg lifts and walking lunges are good ways to begin that most people will remember from their high-school gym classes.
Knowing your own limits, however, can be hard. Many people feel as if they must be in some pain to “feel the stretch,” but that’s far from the truth. Good trainers who stretch you out can gauge when they’re stretching you and when they’re hurting you. Additionally, if you’re in a hot gym or taking a hot-yoga class, you may feel more flexible because your body is warmed up when, in actuality, you’re not actually as warmed up as you think.
It may be a good idea to have an exercise specialist help you determine which areas of your body need to be stretched or lengthened in order for you to achieve more balance. The specialist can also identify the regions of your body that are lacking in mobility or stability. “Piecing together productive exercise sessions is the art of choosing which areas need to move better, which need to be lengthened and which need to be strengthened,” says Aimee Baker, the owner of Bodylogic Exercise and Wellness Studio in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, who encourages stretching to help address asymmetry in the body.
Once you’ve warmed up and exercised, your workout isn’t over. A cooldown comprised of a few minutes of brisk walking and static stretching (which requires that you hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds at the end of your workout) will help you slow your heart rate as well as avoid muscle stiffness and soreness.