Flexibility is an important factor when talking about the health of your muscles. If you have a healthy range of motion in your joints and your muscles are flexible, risk of injury decreases from not only exercise, but also during daily activities. Therefore, it is important for everyone to have flexible muscles, not only athletes.
Stretching is one of the best ways to keep your muscles pliable, decrease injury and increase your athletic performance. Stretching is often the step to be put on the back burner during self care routines. We have to remember that stretching can be quick, and can be done anywhere! A few places my clients get their own stretching in is:
- In the shower: This is popular because the warm shower will also help to warm up cold muscles, and make those stretches feel just a little better.
- In front of the TV: Usually, we are just sitting while watching TV. Why not add stretching?!
- Before Bed: This is my favorite, because it helps me sleep better.
- After Exercise: Making a habit of stretching right after exercise is a great idea, because then it becomes a habit and part of every workout.
Before you plunge into stretching, make sure you do it safely and effectively. While you can stretch anytime, anywhere, be sure to use proper technique. Stretching incorrectly can actually do more harm than good.
Use these tips to keep stretching safe:
Don't consider stretching a warmup. You may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. Before stretching, warm up with light walking, jogging or biking at low intensity for five to 10 minutes. Even better, stretch after your workout when your muscles are warm.
Consider skipping stretching before an intense activity, such as sprinting or track and field activities. Some research suggests that pre-event stretching may actually decrease performance. Research has also shown that stretching immediately before an event weakens hamstring strength.
Instead of static stretching, try performing a "dynamic warmup." A dynamic warm-up involves performing movements similar to those in your sport or physical activity at a low level, then gradually increasing the speed and intensity as you warm up.
- Strive for symmetry. Everyone's genetics for flexibility are a bit different. Rather than striving for the flexibility of a dancer or gymnast, focus on having equal flexibility side to side (especially if you have a history of a previous injury). Flexibility that is not equal on both sides may be a risk factor for injury.
Focus on major muscle groups. Concentrate your stretches on major muscle groups such as your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Make sure that you stretch both sides.
Also stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use.
- Don't bounce. Stretch in a smooth movement, without bouncing. Bouncing as you stretch can injure your muscle and actually contribute to muscle tightness.
- Hold your stretch. Breathe normally and hold each stretch for about 30 seconds; in problem areas, you may need to hold for around 60 seconds.
- Don't aim for pain. Expect to feel tension while you're stretching, not pain. If it hurts, you've pushed too far. Back off to the point where you don't feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
- Make stretches sport specific. Some evidence suggests that it's helpful to do stretches involving the muscles used most in your sport or activity. If you play soccer, for instance, stretch your hamstrings as you're more vulnerable to hamstring strains. So opt for stretches that help your hamstrings.
Keep up with your stretching. Stretching can be time-consuming. But you can achieve the most benefits by stretching regularly, at least two to three times a week.
Skipping regular stretching means you risk losing the potential benefits. For instance, if stretching helped you increase your range of motion, your range of motion may decrease again if you stop stretching.
Bring movement into your stretching. Gentle movements, such as those in tai chi or yoga, can help you be more flexible in specific movements. These types of exercises can also help reduce falls in seniors.
Remember the "dynamic warmup:" If you're going to perform a specific activity, such as a kick in martial arts or kicking a soccer ball, start out slowly and at low intensity to get your muscles used to it. Then speed up gradually.
Know when to exercise caution
You might need to approach stretching with caution. If you have a chronic condition or an injury, you might need to adjust your stretching techniques. For example, if you already have a strained muscle, stretching it may cause further harm.
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.
Check out my YouTube Channel!
If you want to stretch an area, but aren't sure where to begin, check out my YouTube channel! I will be posting new stretches regularly so that you can follow along and do a stretch safely. My first video is now up, a neck stretch. I will take suggestions for any areas you would like a new stretch for!
I hope this helps you improve your stretching routine, and increase flexibility.