Many stretching exercises are mistakenly used to begin warm-up. Stretching cold mucles usually strains joints, ligaments and muscles. Stretching should be preceded by a five-minute jog or cycling.
A sports doctor’s advice on safe alternatives
Exercises that do more harm than good are still common in some fitness classes, videos and books. These include stretches mistakenly used to begin a warm-up and exercises that put excessive stress on joints, ligaments and muscles.
You should never stretch a cold muscle. It’s best to jog lightly or cycle for five minutes first, then stretch as you finish your warm-up before a workout or sport activity. Stretching should also be part of your cool-down. Stretching in a slow controlled manner, holding each stretch at least 20 seconds and doing five repetitions.
But some exercises commonly used for warming up, stretching or strengthening can be particularly harmful to the neck, knees and back. Here is advice on exercises to avoid, and safe alternatives.
DO stretch the neck in a single direction. Place your right hand above your left ear and gently pull your head toward the right shoulder until you feel slight tension. Hold. Repeat in opposite direction.
DON’T warm up or stretch with neck circles – dropping your head to one side and letting it roll across the chest and around the back. Resulting pressure can cause microscopic tears in discs, producing a pinched nerve or neck spasms.
DO stretch your lower back by lying on your back and puling one leg toward the chest, with your hands clasped behind the knee. Hold. Repeat with other leg. Also do a standing side-stretch: standing straight, bend sideways from the waist until you fed some tension. Hold. Repeat on other side.
DO abdominal crunches, lying on your back with legs bent at a 90-degree angle and pressing the small of your back into the floor. With hands clasped behind your neck, slowly use the abdominal muscles to lift your upper body no higher than the bottom of your shoulder blades.
DON’T warm up or stretch with windmills – leaning over from the waist and swinging your right hand down to touch your left foot, then your left hand to your right foot. The twisting and bending can put excess stress on discs, which can cause them to rupture or bulge. Also avoid toe touches performed with locked knees.
DON’T try to strengthen stomach muscles with double leg lifts – lying on your back and lifting both feet six inches off the floor. Especially bad for anyone with back problems, this exercise strains the spine, and it’s ineffective for stomach muscles.
DO strengthen quadriceps in the front of the thigh with shallow squats that bend knees at a 40-degree angle or lunges that bend the knee no more than 90 degrees.
DO stretch quadriceps by standing on your right leg and putting right hand on the wall, while using left hand to pull left foot toward buttocks. Hold. Repeat with other leg.
DON’T stretch quadriceps with the hurdler’s stretch – sitting on the floor with one leg bent and tucked behind while you lean backward. It can strain and tear knee ligaments.
DON’T squat or bend knees past a 90-degree angle. This can cause a sudden tear in knee cartilage or, over time, lead to patellofemoral syndrome, a painful knee condition that can develop into arthritis. Deep knee bends done with a bouncing motion can also damage connective tissue. Lunges that require bending one knee forward more than 90 degrees can strain the cartilage.