9 Stretching Form Mistakes Everyone Makes, According To Trainers

Your posture makes all the difference.

Originally Published: 
The most common stretching form mistakes people make, according to trainers.
Westend61/Westend61/Getty Images

The next time you’re stretching after a workout or as part of your morning routine, pay attention to your form. Even though many twists and folds seem pretty straightforward, there are quite a few stretches that are easy to mess up. Not only could this make them less effective, but it can also cause some unwanted side effects.

According to Trin Perkins, a yoga instructor and NASM-certified stretching and flexibility coach, doing a stretch incorrectly is as easy as pushing too far, using poor posture, or bending the wrong way. When you push too far, that’s when issues like overstretching, pain, and inflammation can occur. Since stretching is supposed to make you feel better, this is the opposite of what you want. “The most effective stretches are those that elicit a gentle stretch sensation, with proper form, held for the recommended length of time,” Perkins says.

Ashley Rawlins, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Origin, adds that stretching incorrectly can also cause joint pain, muscle strain, and ligament injury, and it can even hinder your performance during your workout. Whether you’re dropping into a hip flexor stretch, for example, some minor tweaks in your stance can make all the difference when it comes to hitting the right muscle group.

Below, trainers share the nine stretches everyone does incorrectly — plus how to do them the right way.

1. Standing Hamstring Stretch

Also known as toe touch or standing forward fold, this common stretch is surprisingly easy to mess up. According to Perkins, many people bend forward too quickly while rounding their shoulders. This habit not only strains the lower back, but it takes the hamstrings entirely out of the equation.

- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.

- Slightly bend your knees.

- Shift your hips back as if you’re trying to make them touch an imaginary wall behind you.

- Place your hands on your thighs as you fold forward to keep your shoulders from rounding and to prevent folding forward too quickly.

- Lower your head towards the floor.

- Keep a slight bend in your knees if the stretch is too intense.

- Once you’ve reached your lowest point, place your hands on something for support, like the floor, a set of yoga blocks, or keep them on your thighs.

- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.

2. Hip Flexor Stretch

When doing this go-to hip-opener, keep in mind that it’s common to lean too far forward, Perkins says. The issue? When you drive your knee past your toes, it reduces the stretch in the hip flexor.

- Kneel with one knee on a soft surface, like a cushion or towel.

- Step your other leg forward so your front and back legs are both bent at 90-degree angles.

- Tuck your back toes under.

- Keep your torso upright.

- Draw your belly button back toward your spine for support.

- Scoop your tailbone under and engage your glutes until you feel a stretch in your hip flexor.

- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds on each side.

3. Figure-4 Stretch

Also known as reclined pigeon, you might catch yourself lifting your head off the ground as you pull your bent leg in towards your chest during this stretch, Perkins says. Instead, try to keep your upper body relaxed so you don’t strain your neck.

- Lie on your back with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor.

- Cross your right foot over your left thigh.

- Rest your right calf against your left thigh.

- Interlace your fingers behind your left thigh.

- Gently pull your crossed legs in toward your chest.

- Keep your head and neck relaxed and on the ground.

- Hold 15 to 30 seconds.

- Repeat on the other side.

4. Triceps Stretch

According to Ellen Thompson, CPT, a certified personal trainer with Blink Fitness, loads of people do tricep stretches incorrectly by pulling too hard on their arm while over-arching the back.

- Stand or sit with a straight back.

- Raise one arm overhead and bend your elbow, reaching your hand down your back.

- Use your opposite hand to gently push on your bent elbow until you feel the stretch in your triceps.

- Keep your shoulders relaxed.

- Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.

- Switch arms and repeat on the other side.

5. Crossbody Shoulder Stretch

According to personal trainer Michael Hamlin, NSCA, CSCS, lots of folks try to stretch their shoulders before a workout by yanking their arm across their chest. But remember — stretching is all about easing into the move. When done properly, “this stretch is beneficial for releasing tension in the shoulders and improving flexibility,” he tells Bustle.

- Extend one arm across your chest at shoulder height.

- Use your other hand to gently press the arm towards your chest.

- Feel a stretch in the back of the shoulder and upper arm.

- Keep your shoulders relaxed and avoid lifting the shoulder of the stretching arm.

- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.

- Switch to the other arm.

6. Standing Calf Stretch

When doing this classic leg stretch, Perkins says it may be tempting to pitch yourself too far forward to deepen the pull on the backs of your legs. To properly reach your calves, she suggests staying upright and utilizing a wall for support.

- Stand facing a wall with your feet hip-distance apart.

- Place your palms flat against the wall.

- Step your right foot back at a comfortable distance.

- Make sure your entire right foot is able to maintain contact with the floor.

- Begin to bend your left knee until you feel a stretch along your calf.

- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds on each side.

7. Seated Spinal Twist

When it comes to twists, lots of people corkscrew their head and hands around, which can lead to strain. To get the most out of this move, Perkins says it’s all about lengthening up through your spine.

- Sit up tall with your legs extended or crossed at the ankles in front of you.

- Imagine that someone is pulling you up even taller with a string attached to the top of your head.

- Let your shoulders melt away from your ears.

- Slowly start to turn/twist to the right, moving from your torso.

- Your entire upper body should move as a unit.

- Let your arms and head follow.

- Rest your left arm outside your right knee and place your right hand behind your back.

- Alternatively, place your hands wherever is most comfortable for you, as long as they're anchored.

- Look to your right and hold the stretch for a few breaths.

- Repeat on the other side.

8. Seated Hamstring Stretch

According to Hamlin, it’s best to avoid forcing yourself into this stretch. “This is super common after a workout when you’re tired and not being overly thoughtful about your stretching form,” he says.

- Sit up tall with your spine straight.

- Extend one leg straight in front of you, toes pointing upward.

- Hinge at the hips and reach toward the extended foot, keeping your back straight.

- Hold the stretch at a comfortable point without forcing your body into the stretch.

- Hold for 30 seconds.

- Switch to the other side.

9. Quad Stretch

When it comes to quad stretches, the two most common mistakes are pulling your foot too close to your glutes or arching your back. “Both can put a strain on the knee or lower back,” Thompson says.

- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.

- Bend one knee, bringing the heel towards your glutes.

- Reach back with the same side hand to grasp the ankle of the bent leg.

- Stabilize yourself using the wall or a chair.

- Keep your knees close together and your pelvis neutral.

- Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, feeling it in the front of your thigh.

- Switch legs and repeat on the other side.

Studies referenced:

Martin, RL. (2022). Hamstring Strain Injury in Athletes. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2022.0301.

Page, P. (2012). Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. Int J Sports Phys Ther. PMID: 22319684; PMCID: PMC3273886.

Peck, Evan MD. (2014). The Effects of Stretching on Performance. Current Sports Medicine Reports. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000052.


Trin Perkins, M.S.Ed, RYT-200 yoga instructor, NASM-certified stretching and flexibility coach

Ashley Rawlins, PT, DPT, physical therapist at Origin

Michael Hamlin, NSCA, CSCS, personal trainer

Ellen Thompson, CPT, certified personal trainer with Blink Fitness

This article was originally published on