Stretching has always been a part of our exercise regime, and everyone has their own methods for lengthening tight muscles. Some like to stretch in motion, while others choose to keep it still yet active. Both techniques are effective, but it's good to experiment and find what works best for you. Read these tips for maximizing your stretch session.
- Warm up: Don't stretch a cold muscle! Warming up before flexibility training is recommended since exercising increases your body temperature and blood flow. Warmer muscles are more elastic and respond better to stretching than cold ones.
- Static stretch: Static stretches, holding a muscle in a lengthened position for between 15 and 20 seconds, are best done in sets of four, according to the American Journal of Sports and Medicine. These stretching exercises, performed daily, will provide the optimum gain for your muscles and ligaments.
- Dynamic stretch: This specific form of stretching involves moving muscles and joints through a range of motion to increase flexibility. Walking lunges would be the active variation on the static runner's lunge, used to stretch the hip flexors.
- Pain will not gain: When working on your flexibility, you do not want to hit a point of pain. Slowly increase the stretch just past the point of limitation but not into the painful zone.
- Stretch all areas: Since muscles work together to create motion, it is best to stretch groups of muscles rather than focusing on just the major muscle. Instead of just stretching your quads, for example, add a hip flexor stretch into the mix.
- Move on different planes: Stretching your muscles from different angles allows you to lengthen all the fibers of a muscle, enhancing your full range of motion. By working on different planes, you can enhance muscle relaxation and build more mobility in your joints.
- Breathe through it: Rhythmic, slow breathing can help your muscles relax in a stretch and encourage them to loosen up. Stretches are always done best at a steady pace where you can calmly listen to your body's limitations.
- End it on a high note: Although you might enjoy stretching before an exercise, some experts believe stretching post-workout is better. Studies have shown that people have more flexibility after they finish a workout because the circulation to those muscles and joints is increased during activity. This is also a great way to prevent muscle stiffness the next day, so always follow vigorous exercise with a stretch.