It some point, a little training snobbery is okay, especially when the risk outweighs the reward. Stretching on the whole is a safe practice, but not every stretch is good for every body, and unless you’re a contortionist, pro athlete or seasoned yogi, there’s no need to assemble your parts into a potentially compromising position. Here are the top three stretches you should avoid and why — and a replacement move that is safer and better for your body.
This stretch is (obviously) good for hurdlers, but jumping over a hurdle is truly the only real-life activity that benefits from this position. Its purpose is to stretch your hips and deeper hip rotators, but when most people attempt it, they usually end up putting the inner portion of their knees under stress — risking potential ligament and joint capsule injury — rather than stretching their hips.
Sub In: 90/90 Hip Stretch
Having both knees at a 90-degree angle means that this stretch properly targets your hips and reduces the pressure on your knees. Hold each position of this stretch for 30 to 60 seconds to hit all aspects of your hip rotators. Repeat two to four times each side.
Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat, then turn to the side and let your knees fall to the floor. Your front thigh should be straight out in front of you and your opposite thigh straight out to the side — both knees bent 90 degrees. Hold here and press your pelvis downward. Then hinge forward at the hip with a straight back and drop your chest toward the forward knee. Sit back up and rotate toward your back leg.
Though it might not bother seasoned yogis, Plow Pose requires extensive flexibility in your hamstrings, back and neck — places that many people experience tightness and even pain. Folding yourself in half also requires that the bulk of your bodyweight be supported by your neck and shoulders, possibly pressing on the delicate disks and nerve bundles in your cervical spine.
Sub In: Forward Fold
This stretch achieves that same posterior-chain lengthening by enlisting the help of gravity — without bending into a pretzel or tweaking your spine.
Stand with your feet together, knees straight but not hyperextended. Starting with your head, slowly roll down one vertebra at a time until you’re hanging upside down with your head toward the floor. Place your hands on the floor or fold your arms over your chest and hold for 60 seconds or longer. For a deeper stretch, wrap your arms around the backs of your knees, or walk your hands backward between your feet.
Straight-Arm Chest Stretch
It’s common in our tech-filled world to have tight pecs, but this particular stretch can actually shorten rather than lengthen these muscles. Additionally, leaning forward into the stretch pulls on the connective tissues that hold your shoulder in place, weakening the anterior capsule and compromising its integrity — without stretching a single fiber of the pectorals.
Sub In: “High-Five” Pec Stretch
This position properly stretches the pecs so they can perform all their required actions: horizontal abduction, external rotation and scapular retraction.
Bend your arm at a 90-degree angle as if you were giving a high-five, then place your elbow and forearm against a stationary object like a rig post or door jamb. Slowly rotate your entire body away from your arm until you feel a stretch in your chest — it won’t take much. As your muscles relax, turn a little farther. Hold for 30 seconds each side.