There's a time and place for certain static stretches—but not these particular ones that might even up your risk for injury.
K. Aleisha Fetters 1 / 7
Static stretches are a funny thing. They are bad before exercising, good after workouts, and downright amazing when you’ve spent the last eight hours sitting in a desk chair.
“While dynamic stretching has been proven to ‘prime the pump more efficiently and get you ready for exercise performance, if you’re looking to increase range of motion, decrease pain, fix your posture, then static stretching is the way to go,” says physical therapist Jared Beckstrand, P.T., D.P.T., founder of Tone and Tighten. Plus, by improving flexibility and posture, static stretching could wind up improving your ability to power through workouts without injury.
Still, some static stretches—old-school, mistaught, or completely against the laws of nature—just suck. Read on as trainers, exercise physiologists, and physical therapists share the six stretches that are wasting your time.
We’ve been hugging one arm across our chests since elementary PE. Unfortunately, this stretch shortens already too-short muscles in your chest and lengthens muscles in your back that are already overstretched, says exercise physiologist and licensed massage practitioner Nikki Naab-Levy. “Most of us already live with a forward shoulder position from sitting at a computer and consequently have tightness in the muscles on the front of the body like the pecs with weakness and too much length in the muscles on the back of the body like the rear deltoid and external rotators of the shoulder,” she says. Basically, it just puts you in a never-ending slouch.
For a quad stretch, this move does shockingly little to stretch your quads—and a whole helluvalot to mess up your knees, says Ohlin. What’s more, most of us are so restricted in the hip flexors (thank you, sitting all day) that it’s difficult to target the quads with this move. “To get into this position, most people will have to push their legs apart,” says Naab-Levy. “That means they will bypass the lateral aspect of the quadriceps muscle, the area that needs the most attention.”
If you perform this stretch not knowing what you’re supposed to be stretching, you’re not alone. “I honestly never understood this stretch. Is it for the lower back? Is it for the glutes? The hips? It makes no sense,” says personal trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S. Here’s a secret: It really doesn’t stretch anything. It’s just a one-legged balancing act.
“It seems like a progression of the regular standing quad stretch, and it's kind of a step below the Standing Bow Pose in yoga,” Donavanik says. “But the arm raise does nothing for the quad stretch; it actually takes away from it because you now have to focus more on balance. In yoga it works because it acts as a counterbalance as you kick the leg up and lean forward, but here it serves no purpose.” Meanwhile, most people teach quad stretches with the instruction “bring your foot to your butt,” which actually decreases the stretch on the quads and causes guys to overextend their back, says exercise physiologist Marta Montenegro, C.S.C.S., an adjunct professor in exercise and sports sciences at Florida International University. “If anything, you’ll work the hip flexors, not the quads,
“This one makes me cringe,” says board-certified sports physical therapist Emily Ohlin, P.T. in Portland, Oregon. “It will stretch the hamstrings, but it will also increase the load on the discs in the lower back putting them at risk for damage.” It doesn’t matter how limber your hammies are if your back is wrecked.
The only time your legs should be in a hurdler’s position is when you are gazelle-ing over hurdles. That’s because the position rotates your bent knee to stress the meniscus as well the medial collateral ligament, one of the four main ligaments in the knee, Ohlin says. While everyone should beware of this stress, they are an absolute no if you have any pre-existing knee issues, adds Janet Hamilton, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist with Running Strong in Atlanta.