Tips For More Effective Stretching

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Stretching should be an integral part of any exercise program. Additionally, stretching can be used to improve mood and reduce pain and soreness. The following tips will help you understand how to stretch in a safe, effective manner.

  • Make sure muscles are properly warmed up before you stretch. The best way to warm up for stretching is to perform low-intensity movements that are similar to the main type of activity that you will perform. For example, if you’re going to walk two miles, first, do some movements to warm up: slowly walk, gradually speeding up for several minutes. Then do about 5 minutes of static stretching.
  • Don’t over stretch. It is true that you must stretch and hold a muscle beyond its normal length to improve flexibility. However, you should not stretch to the point of discomfort, because it could result in serious damage: tearing a muscle, spraining a ligament, or dislocating a joint. Only stretch a muscle to a comfortable point and hold for about 15 – 45 seconds or so.
  • Don’t bounce.  Rocking a body part back and forth to create a “bouncing” motion makes it harder to control the force and range of motion. This could be a recipe for a torn muscle or tendon, especially if you are a beginner or recovering from an injury.
  • Keep your breathing slow and rhythmic while holding stretches. Exhale slowly as you extend to the endpoint of the stretch, hence promoting a more effective relaxation of the target muscles.
  • Stretch all major muscle groups as well as opposing muscle groups. For example, stretch the quadriceps (front of the upper leg) as well as the hamstrings (back of the upper leg).
  • Be consistent with your stretching. You achieve the most benefits by stretching regularly, at least two to three times a week.
  • Stretch before and after each vigorous workout, before going to bed, or after sitting for a long time to encourage mind and body relaxation or invigoration.

Remember that stretching doesn’t mean you can’t get injured. Stretching, for instance, won’t prevent an overuse injury. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the most appropriate way to stretch if you have any health concerns.

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