Stretching is a great way to improve flexibility and prevent muscle stiffness. It’s important to do it properly though. Here are some key tips for safe stretching:
1) Don’t stretch cold muscles. Only stretch once your muscles have been warmed up to both improve effectiveness and prevent potential injury.
2) Don’t rush your stretches. Hold each stretch for 20 to 60 seconds and repeat your stretches if you are particularly tight.
3) Push to your soft edge. Unlike resistance training where you need to push out of your comfort zone if you want to get stronger, in order to improve flexibility you need to work within your comfort zone. You need to be able to breathe easily and should feel a gentle pull, rather than a breath holding painful pull while you stretch. You can always go deeper once your muscles start to relax.
4) Don’t bounce or force it. Bouncing while stretching will create the exact opposite to what you want. It causes your muscles to protect from overstretching and you may end up tighter or potentially injured in the end.
5) Breathe. Breathing while you stretch is the best way to elicit a relaxation response in our muscles. Breath as deeply and as slowly as possible.
6) Stretch for 5 minutes for every 30 minutes of exercise. The more exercise you do, the longer you need to stretch to counteract the tightening aspect of exercisee.
7) Make stretching part of your other warm-up and cool-down activities. It will help put you in the right frame of mind before exercise and help you relax afterwards.
8) Include stretching in your daily routine. Gentle stretching can improve your circulation and a steady blood flow helps reduce muscle tension and soreness. Make it a non-negotiable habit. Just like all things, if you don’t use it, you will lose it.