Right before your early morning run, you step outside in the brisk cold and start to stretch your calves and hamstrings to prepare for your long run.  After your run, you take some time to again stretch those same muscles that you worked.  You continue this same routine day in and day out, and begin to notice that your before and after run stretches become much more painful and it makes it even harder for you to enjoy your runs.  What’s going on here?  You guessed it…overstretched muscles.

Stretching cold muscles, especially major ones that you will be using for an activity such as running, without first raising the core temperature of your body will cause overstretched muscles or even minor muscle strains over time.  When this happens, it can increase the amount of time it takes for you to gain flexibility because you continue to damage and re-damage those same muscles.

With overstretching and muscle strains, micro tears along the muscle or tendons will present themselves.  Physiologically, when stretching too aggressively or on cold muscles, a stretch reflex takes place.  This is an automatic response from your nervous system. The nerve fibers, which are being stretched, will send a signal to the muscles to contract against the strong pull of the muscle.  This results in a pulled muscle, which when repeated leads to overstretched muscles and also low athletic performance.

Most studies show that muscles will heal from a minor tear while in a shortened state, so this will limit your flexibility.  However, backing off on your stretching routine or doing light stretches can lessen your chance of losing flexibility over time.

A great way to warm up the body, work at your own pace and level of flexibility and still get in a nice stretch is a YTU pose called Stir the Pot.  This can be a very slow movement that will allow you to feel when you might come to close over stretching some of those rotator cuff muscles, but I feel is safe enough, because while you are stretching, you are also hugely strengthening many of the supporting muscles that allow this movement to happen. I’ve attached the pose below, and you can also see it on the 5 Minute Quick Fix for Shoulders video.

Check out our Post athletic stretch DVD

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Tia Ukpe

Tia Ukpe has been a devoted student of yoga since 2001. She has focused on practicing and teaching Ashtanga Vinyasa. She received her 200 hour teacher certification from IT's Yoga in 2007. Tia is also a Relax and Renew Restorative Yoga teacher and is certified to teach Yoga Tune Up®, an integrative form of yoga therapy created by Jill Miller. Tia is currently working towards her Master’s in Holistic Nutrition, has received her initial certification from Saul David Raye in Thai Yoga Therapy and continues to look for new ways that she can integrate holistic living in all aspects of life. For more about me or to view my Yoga Tune Up® class schedule go here. You can also visit my website at www.tiawellness.com.

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Kerri

Very helpful article as I work with a lot of athletes with yin yoga. Yin as you know is done in a colder room , I always advocate to my students that we work some dynamic stretching into our class opening so that the body can prepare itself for stretching. Many of my students participate in cross fit activities where they stretch before hand and then after. Since they are focusing on advancing the stride, mobility, agility etc.. this article is helpful for me to share the information for those training routines to back off the initial stretch. I don’t… Read more »

Maggie

I see so many athletes come into the crossfit that I go to and immediately jump into stretches without having warmed up. I often think about how this is no good for them but don’t say much because they haven’t asked me anything. I feel compeled to start informing them about how it will enhance their performance to warm up first. Thanks

Erin

I just returned from my sons soccer practice where I watched 15 teenage boys walk onto the field and begin stretching their quads & hamstrings. Granted, it was a warm evening but the still began their workout stretching a cold muscle groups. After a few more stretches they proceeded into a light jog around the field. It is often hard to get your own kids to listen (even as a yoga instructor). I will be sure to have my son read this blog – reinforce that while very important, flexibility doesn’t need come first.

Alex Booth

Tia this article was interesting for me to read because I know some strength athletes who purposely avoid stretching certain muscles so they can be tighter and get more “bounce” out of their lifts. It’s interesting how this transfers to other disciplines as well. I’m curious to look into if anyone has gone about researching specific muscles to stretch/tighten for specific sport and athletic performance. I’m going to go take a look right now!

Nicolette

Thanks Tia!!

It’s great to hear the science behind the effects of stretching cold muscles, now I can tell my husband to back off because he does that before he goes for his runs!

We’ll need him to start stirring the pot or doing something similar 🙂

Patricia

Wonderful maybe I can take up running again. I pretty much gave it up and went for power walking instead. My yoga practice is more in the hot room rather but I enjoy the normal rooms as well but pulled muscles and over stretching is always a worry for me.I like the YTU poses without the balls as well. Once again amazing article thank you Tia!

Robyn Capobianco

A well rounded yoga practice performed with active engagement of the muscles can be a good precursor to other athletics. Intense SMRT using the balls can potentially destabilize the muscles prior to activities. As a marathoner and triathlete, I tend to do a few dynamic warm ups, run for 10-15min and then stretch out my psoas, quads, hammies and hip external rotators. Thanks for the nice article!

Barb Voss

As a marathon runner we were cautioned never to stretch cold muscles, but to warm up for at least 15-20 minutes before stretching. I have always taken this advice to heart and feel that it has served me well through my years of training. I might add that the tune-up balls are my newly found answer to my post-run routine-staying on top of the tightness and imbalances!

heather allison

This is a very helpful to me . As a Tang Soo Do student we sometimes do not get the proper stretch in our warm up , and the outcome is long term suffering.We will begin a kick portion of the class and right away you can feel you have overstretched a hamstring . I am still paying the consequence . And no matter what i now take extra time to get the proper stretch.

Cari Devine Bjelajac

You are right about resisting the temptation to stretch when there is a muscle micro tear or strain. The slightly shortened state will reduce the side effects of the stretch reflex and will speed healing. Once healing has occurred, whip out those Yoga Tune Up balls and reinvigorate that shortened fascial chain!

Lisa Larivière

Hi Tia, what you are mentioning to me is so fresh in my mind, cause just today in YTU class, Jill was talking about warming up the body and also mention side winder… This reminded me of how important it is for me to relay this message to my son when I get back…All he does is stretch, stretch, strech, before all of his runs and still he is in pain the next day…So now, I can tell him, with backup info that he should just be worming up with ballistic stretching!

AA

As an early morning runner living in the Northeast, this info is extremly valid and helpful. I never even thought about the side effects of attempting to warm up my muscles when they are cold and runnign on unstretched muscles. Thank you for your wonderful suggestions !

Robin Nickel

I am your early morning runner. Every morning I run. It is amazing , my time. I have done most of my runs without stretching before, I then tried stretching before, my runs felt worse. I stopped the before run stretching. I then watched my husband do push ups every time he joined me before a run…warming up his core.. I thought what a great way to loosen up and get set to run.

Keith Wittenstein

Great article. Understanding the demands placed on the muscles during athletic activity is hugely important. Stretching has been shown to reduce the contractile potential of muscles immediately post stretching so if your sport requires any amount of speed and strength be extremely cautious that you don’t overstretch those big prime movers or the stabilizers. For example the hamstrings are extremely important in running and overstretching them right before a game can weaken them and slow your athlete down. Also the hamstrings stabilize the knee joint so a weakened hamstring puts the knee in danger. Focus on a dynamic warmup that… Read more »

alan

For athletic performance or great effort, I like to start with the breathing, warming up the diaphragm and the core. A little pranayama to connect the nostrils to the pelvis to the soles of the feet; then deepening the exhale to fully engage throughout the torso. Uddhiyana bridge lifts are a new favourite in this process. Only when the breathing is ‘online’, am I ready, and then various poses can follow.

Nancy

This is a hugely important concept when you are incorporating yoga into other fitness pursuits. I practice martial arts and with those bursts of fast twitch muscle activation i always had to ensure that yoga practice came after. As in the practice of yin yoga, traditionally done on cool bodies, the stretches get into the connective tissue and joints rather than the highly vasculated muscles. This is a safe way to explore those important areas for mobility but i would not recommend any activity afterwards as it would be risky with loose, unstable joints.

Wendy Tsai

Yoga for Golf players
Golf players use lower body to the hips, the trunk, the shoulders, the arms to generate swing power. So to have a strong swing, yoga can help to build strong glutes and have mobility in the hips. There are many yoga postures that will help to get deep into the connective tissue and muscles of the hips. These poses are downward facing dog, Cobra, Hip Abductor, Hip Adductor, Warrior I, Reverse Warrior, and Extended Side Angle.

Wendy Tsai

Yoga for Soccer players
Soccer players use great amount of running, sprinting and kicking, and by doing yoga poses, it would improve the flexibility of the legs. A medical coordinator for Major League Soccer says usually soccer players have very tight adductors and tight hip flexors and by improving the flexibility in those two areas, it can prevent groin and hip injuries. The yoga poses that would improve flexibility of the leg muscles, hip flexors, and hamstring are Reclining Butterfly, High Lunge, Pigeon Pose, Downward Facing Dog, and Warrior I, II, and III.

Wendy Tsai

Yoga for Cyclists
The repetitive motion of cycling puts a high demand on some muscle groups while ignoring others. This results an imbalance in muscle particularly to the opposing muscle groups of the leg and torso and can lead to overuse injuries. Doing yoga will improve flexibility and help prevent injury. You will also benefit from improved balance, posture, core stability, and strength.