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The concept of stretching being associated with pain is a long-standing myth in fitness communities and a cause for concern for many newbies embarking on their fitness journey. It’s high time to set the record straight that stretching is not supposed to hurt.

Understanding Stretching

As a first step towards understanding the dynamics of stretching, we need to appreciate its core purpose: enhancing the flexibility and mobility of our muscles and joints. A popular question among fitness enthusiasts is, “Should stretching hurt?” The short answer is no; stretching should never be painful.

The Myth About Pain and Stretching

The saying “No pain, no gain” is commonplace in the fitness world, but it does not apply to stretching. On the contrary, pain can signal that you are overstretching, which can potentially lead to injury. Feeling pain during a stretch indicates that you have pushed your body too far.

Rather than forcing your body into painful, unnatural positions, the goal of stretching is to slowly ease into the stretch, stopping at the point of mild discomfort or tightness. Hold this position for approximately 30 seconds, allowing your muscle to relax. If you feel the tightness reduce, gradually move further into the stretch, pausing again at the next point of tightness.

What Should You Feel While Stretching?

Understanding what sensations to expect while stretching is crucial to executing it safely and effectively.

Using a Mental Scale for Pain Tolerance

Primarily, you should be aware that stretching should not lead to pain. As a rule, the right amount of stretch should cause mild discomfort or a slight feeling of ‘pull’ on the muscle, not pain. This feeling is often described as a 4 to 6 on a scale where 0 means no pain and 10 signifies unbearable pain. This level of discomfort, or “stretch tolerance,” should decrease as you hold the stretch.

Beginning the Stretch

When you start stretching, you should move slowly into the stretched position until the point where you first notice tension in the muscle. You should then hold this position for approximately 30 seconds. You should feel a slight pull on your muscle, but not to the point where it is uncomfortable, and you are unable to relax. As your body acclimates to this sensation, you may find your tension eases up a bit.

During The Stretch

If you notice the initial tension easing, it’s then appropriate to move a bit further into the stretch, stopping again at the next point of tension. This additional move should also be held for 30 seconds. As you repeat this process, you will find yourself gradually increasing your muscle flexibility, always working within your comfort zone, which is the key to effective stretching.

Understanding Sensations

Another critical point to remember is that the sensation of tightness should not increase as you hold the stretch. If the tightness increases or there is pain, it’s a signal that the muscle may be over-stretched, and it’s wise to back off a little.

Conversely, you should not feel nothing. Feeling nothing may indicate that the stretch is not effectively targeting the desired muscles. If this is the case, it might be useful to adjust your positioning, ensure proper alignment, or try a different stretch for the same muscle group.

Listening to Your Body

A vital part of any stretching routine is to listen to your body’s signals. Everyone’s body is unique, so the level of discomfort that one person can comfortably tolerate might be too much or too little for another person. The key is to identify your own comfort zone, and never try to push beyond it into a range that causes pain.

It’s Not a Race or Competition

Remember, stretching should not be a competition or race. It’s about gradually increasing flexibility, enhancing blood circulation, and promoting overall muscle health. So the next time you stretch, remember the sensation of tension, not pain, is your target. Your body will thank you for it.

Stretching Techniques

Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is a method worth considering for those interested in a safe and pain-free stretching experience. AIS encourages active movement through the full range to the point of tightness, holding for a maximum of two seconds, then returning and repeating. As the repetitions increase, so should the range of motion, remaining pain-free. In addition, self-myofascial release or foam rolling can be a safe alternative to enhance muscle flexibility and recovery.

Common Stretching Mistakes

It is essential to note that several common mistakes can turn an otherwise healthy stretching routine into a potentially harmful activity. The first is not warming up before you stretch. A pre-stretching warm-up will increase your body’s core temperature, make muscles more pliable, and stimulate blood flow to the muscles and connective tissues.

The second mistake is using improper stretching techniques. Multiple styles of stretching exist, and choosing the correct one for your fitness level and intended activity is vital. Dynamic stretching, where you move through your entire range of motion without holding an end position, is suitable for warming up. Static stretching, on the other hand, involves holding a stretching pose for a short period, best done after a workout to alleviate muscle fatigue.

The Dangers of Overstretching

Overstretching is another error you need to avoid. Slowly ease into your stretches. While mild discomfort is normal, the stretch should not hurt. Always stay within your natural range of motion. If you find one muscle area particularly tight, repeat your stretches multiple times, but avoid pushing too hard.

How Often Should You Stretch?

Stretching should be a regular part of your fitness regimen. The goal is to maintain flexibility and mobility in your joints and muscles. Not stretching enough can cause your muscles to shorten, limiting movement and increasing discomfort.


Proper stretching technique is essential to prevent injuries and maximize the benefits of your fitness program. Although stretching can cause mild discomfort due to the tension on your muscles, it should not be painful. If you start to feel pain, this could be a sign that you’re pushing your muscles too far, and you should reduce the intensity of the stretch.

Stay attentive to your body’s signals, keep your stretching routine regular and remember – it should not hurt. With these guidelines in place, you’ll be well on your way to a healthier, more flexible you.

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