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Stretching our muscles can have a ton of benefits. Most notably, stretching can help improve flexibility and increase the range of motion of our joints. With better flexibility, we improve our performance in physical activities, reduce the risk of injuries, encourage muscle blood flow, and even enhance our abilities when doing daily activities. While stretching is an incredible activity to incorporate into your everyday routine, it has a set of rules that you should follow closely so that you maximize those flexibility gains while staying safe and avoiding any injury.
How to Stretch Properly
Stretching can be done anywhere, anytime: at home, at a park, on the beach, and even in your own office. It’s a highly convenient exercise that can help loosen those tight muscles, and you don’t even need any equipment to do it. While you can stretch whenever and wherever it’s important to do it safely and effectively. Stretching incorrectly can do you more harm than good. That said, here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind so that you stretch correctly and keep yourself in tip-top shape.
Warm Up First
You may be asking yourself, “Isn’t stretching already a warm-up?” Actually, stretching shouldn’t be considered a warm-up. Your muscles can move more easily when warm, allowing you to stretch more comfortably. You can take a walk around the office floor, march in place, or even swing your arms for five minutes before doing stretching exercises.
Focus On the Muscle Being Stretched
Concentrate your stretches on muscles and joints that you routinely use every day. This means stretching your calves if you wear high heels every day, stretching your hip flexors and hamstrings if you sit for long periods, and stretching your fingers as you use them in typing, writing, and the like. Additionally, you should also stretch major muscle groups and make sure you stretch both sides so that they are balanced.
Strive for Symmetry
All of us have different flexibility levels. Some may have the flexibility of a gymnast, while others may not be that flexible. Instead of pushing yourself to be as flexible as a dancer, it’s more important to strive on having equal flexibility all over your body. This is especially important if you have a history of a previous injury. By improving your flexibility equally, you can reduce the occurrence of injuries.
Hold Your Stretch
Holding your stretches allows your muscles to relax. You can hold your stretches for 20 to 30 seconds and don’t forget to breathe normally as you do so. Breathing comfortably will make you feel more at ease as well.
Stretching frequently and daily will let you achieve the most benefits. If you’re a busybody, even just 5 to 10 minutes of stretching at a time can be very helpful. Aim to do stretch exercises at least two to three times a week.
Stretch to the Point of Pain
It’s normal to feel a bit of tension when stretching. However, that tension should not be painful at all. If it hurts, you’ve pushed yourself too far. Remember to only stretch to the point of mild tension and never to the point of pain. The moment you feel pain, stop immediately, reset your position, and try again carefully.
Stretch as a Warm-Up
Often, people stretch before doing intense exercises. Some research suggests that stretching before an intense activity may decrease performance and weaken the muscles, leading to injury. Instead, try walking, jogging in place, or dancing for a few minutes to awaken your muscles before your workout.
Stretch in Rapid Movements
Always stretch in a smooth movement and never bounce. Bouncing as you stretch can injure your muscles. It also contributes to muscle tightness. Remember, gentle motions are the way to go, especially if you are stretching for rehabilitation.
Stick to the Same Stretch
There are numerous types of stretches out there that target different parts of the body. Make sure that you switch up and perform a variety of stretches to ensure that you’re working towards full-body flexibility. Doing different stretches also helps in keeping you interested and engaged in the exercises. If you do the same stretches over and over, you may get tired and bored of stretching and lose your motivation in practicing it daily.
Neglect Strength Training
Don’t believe the myth that strength training will decrease the flexibility of your muscles. In fact, strength athletes such as weightlifters, wrestlers, gymnasts, and throwers have flexibility above the average range. Never skip strength training exercises. Stretching paired up with strength training can help increase your flexibility even more, especially if you train through a full range of motion.
Stretching can be done whenever possible in your day, whether it’s before bedtime, a few minutes after waking up, or even during breaks at work. By following the basic do’s and don’ts, you’ll be sure to get the most out of your stretching efforts.