Listening to your body ensures that you are doing stretches that are good for you and helps you to enjoy your flexibility training instead of just suffering through it!
One of the primary objections to a regular stretching practice is that stretching hurts. While there is no magic to prevent all challenging sensations from occurring during your stretches, it is important to distinguish between different kinds of “pain” by listening to the subtle distinctions between different sensations during your workout.
Your body is your best teacher for what works, and what doesn’t. You will learn to abandon, modify, or correct stretches that aren’t right for your body and find a deep joy in the stretches that are, even when they “hurt.”
A few tips to help you on your journey:
• The body will resist an increased range of motion at first:
Any time you ask your muscles to extend beyond their usual length they will get nervous and resist because they are afraid of getting hurt. This creates that tight, sometimes anxious sensation of the body fighting itself and the muscle screaming at you to STOP NOW. You don’t need to stop completely, but it is important to be sympathetic to the muscle’s fear and continue to encourage it gently, slowly, consistently, so that it learns to be brave. This will reduce the duration and intensity of your discomfort in the stretch.
• Be careful of pain that radiates, burns, or prickles:
That electrical pain usually involves the compression or stretching of a nerve and is a sign that you should not go deeper. It is possible to work through this but not until those nerve pains go away. In the meantime, hang out at the edge of the pain and do some gentle movements (wiggle your fingers, flex or point your foot, anything to get the nerves unglued) to slowly loosen the sticking point.
• Pain should not last after you come out of a stretch:
Even if you feel some intense sensations while you are stretching, the sensation should abate after you stop stretching and move your limbs around. If you still have pain in your joint afterwards, especially a sharp or nervy pain, that is a sign that there could be an injury or the beginning of an injury and something needs to be modified or investigated. It is fine, however, to have normal muscle soreness the next day or two after stretching, as you would with any workout.
• Pain inside the joint should be avoided:
We want to be focused on stretching the muscles, not the connective tissue inside the joints. If you are experiencing pain deep inside the joint (knee, shoulder, hip, sacrum, etc) then something is probably not working correctly. Consider addressing alignment or modifying the stretch.
• More pain doesn’t mean more progress:
Pushing harder into a painful stretch does not mean that you will get better faster. With flexibility training benefits come from consistency (training regularly) rather than intensity (pushing hard). Pushing too hard too fast into pain will cause the muscle to contract and potentially create tears in the muscle or connective tissue.
• Combine active and passive stretches:
Weak muscles and joints with limited active flexibility hurt more and take longer to warm up. Strength, when developed through your full range of motion, can actually work to improve your stretching experience.
Learning to minimize the negative types of pain leaves you free to find joy in the glorious sensation of a really good stretch, as the muscle releases, tension decreases, and you realize more of your body’s full potential!