Used to getting loose and limber before going on a run? It may be time to think twice about reaching for those toes. There’s a good chance we’re stretching out the wrong way or for the wrong reasons. It’s time to debunk the biggest stretching myths, so we can bend, flex, and stretch— the right way.

Stretching the Truth

Photo by Ben Draper

1. Myth: Stretching prevents injury. Researchers are finding that stretching won’t necessarily prevent sitting out on the sidelines Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Woods, K, Bishop, P, Jones, E. Human Performance Laboratory, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Sports Medicine, 2007;37(12):1089-99.. Injury is due to many factors, including poor technique, muscle imbalances, and not warming up properly. The upside: Greatist expert and trainer Kelvin Gary says the risk can be minimized by stretching regularly as part of a warm-up and cool down. Truth: Injuries are complicated, but stretching may be one way to keep them at bay. 2. Myth: Stretching nixes soreness. Aches from yesterday’s CrossFit W.O.D. might not fade with a few good stretches Forward lunge: a training study of eccentric exercises of the lower limbs. Jonhagen, S, Ackermann, P, Saartok, T, et al.Department of Orthopaedics, Stockholm Söder Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2009 May;23(3):972-8. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Herbert, R.D., de Noronha, M, Kamper, S.J. Musculoskeletal Division, The George Institute for Global Health, Sydney, Australia. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2011 Jul 6;(7):CD004577.. In a study of over 2,000 adults, stretching before and after exercising didn’t stop those pesky post-workout aches and pains A pragmatic randomised trial of stretching before and after physical activity to prevent injury and soreness. Jamtvedt, G, Herbert, R.D., Flottorp, S, et al. Norwegian Knowledge Centre for Health Services, Oslo, Norway. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2010 Nov;44(14):1002-9. Epub 2009 Jun 11.. (Fun fact: Feeling sore comes from micro tears in muscles, and stretching is not effective in preventing these tears and subsequent soreness, Gary notes.) Truth: Soreness can strike any athlete, regardless of their stretching regime. 3. Myth: Stretching a few days a week is plenty. We may not want to hit the gym seven days a week, but according to Greatist expert and triathlon coach Andrew Kalley, consistent stretching is key to increasing flexibility, range of motion, and potentially reducing the risk of muscle strain. Truth: Stretching consistently is the best way to reap its benefits. 4. Myth: Static stretching should come first. Stretching before a workout when the body is at rest can be harmful, since muscles may actually tighten up in the process. But static stretching after exercise is typically beneficial, helping the muscles to relax, Gary says. Truth: Go static after working out— not before. 5. Myth: A bit of light cardio is the perfect warm-up. A quick jog isn’t all you need before hitting the weights, the courts, or the ‘mill. Dynamic stretching (think: walking lunges, running butt kicks, and power skips) in addition to some light cardio will warm up muscles and prep the body for a safe and effective workout, Kalley and Gary advise. Truth: A proper warm-up should include dynamic stretching, too. 6. Myth: Stretching won’t help performance. Dynamic stretching involves movements that jump-start range of motion, making them a great warm-up solution. And like the name suggests, studies show these moves may even help power-up those muscles The acute effect of different warm-up protocols on anaerobic performance in elite youth soccer players.Needham, R.A., Morse, C.l., Degens, H. Exercise and Sport Science Department, Manchester Metropolitan University, Alsager, Manchester, United Kingdom. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2009 Dec;23(9):2614-20. Acute effects of static, dynamic, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching on muscle power in women. Manoel, M.E., Harris-Love, M.O., Danoff, J.V., et al. Department of Exercise Science, The George Washington University Medical Center, Washington, District of Columbia. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2008 Sep;22(5):1528-34.. Truth: Dynamic stretching might give muscles an extra power boost. 7. Myth: It’s OK to jet out after a workout. To get the most out of a workout, don’t forget to stretch at the finish line. Kalley recommends static stretching before hitting the locker room to relax those heated muscles. Try foam rolling post-workout/pre-stretching to really get those knots out. Truth: Foam rolling and stretching are important post-exercise to-dos. 8. Myth: Stretch extra long on race day. Don’t take those race day jitters out on cold muscles. Researchers have found that static stretching before sprints could both harm muscles and prevent athletes from reaching their A-game potential The acute effects of static stretching on the sprint performance of collegiate men in the 60- and 100-m dash after a dynamic warm-up. Kistler, B.M., Walsh, M.S., Horn, T.S., et al. Department of Kinesiology and Health, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2010 Sep;24(9):2280-4.. Truth: When it comes to stretching, treat race days like any other training day. 9. Myth: Stretching one muscle group will only relieve strain in that area. Sore in one spot? The source may be another muscle group altogether The other mechanism of muscular referred pain: the "connective tissue" theory. Han, D.G. Department of Neurolgy, DaeJeon HanKook Hospital, ChungCheongNam-Do, South Korea. Medical Hypotheses, 2009 Sep;73(3):292-5. Epub 2009 May 9.. One example: Lower back pain isn’t necessarily from forgetting to stretch that back— the culprit could be tight hip flexors. (Sneaky, right?) Truth: Everything’s connected. Stretch one area, and another might benefit, too. 10. Myth: A five-minute warm-up should cut it. There’s no way we can squeeze in all those Frankensteins and hit the elliptical in five minutes flat. A proper warm-up often involves foam rolling, dynamic and active stretching, and then light cardio, Gary says, so don’t skimp out on warming up properly. Truth: When it comes to warming up, take 10 (at least!). 11. Myth: All individuals need the same amount of stretching. Working long hours at a desk can lead to seriously stiff muscles. So cube-dwellers, remember those muscles might need a little extra attention before and after working out. Truth: Workaholics may need to stretch more than others. 12. Myth: I’m already flexible, so there’s no need to stretch. Not necessarily. According to Gary, dynamic stretching and warming up are still important for everyone in order to increase blood flow to muscles. And remember, skimping out on stretching might also decrease flexibility over time. Truth: Stick to stretching, even once flexibility goals are achieved. Which workout myths should we debunk next? Tell us in the comment section below! This article has been read and approved by Greatist Experts Andrew Kalley and Kelvin Gary.