You know the feeling: You wake up in the morning, lumber out of bed and flex your back, listening to each and every joint pop like it’s something out of a rice krispie bowl. You’re tired, sore and your limbs feel like they are stuffed with cardboard.
Stretching each and every day – regardless of whether or not you’re engaging in any sort of physical activity – can dramatically improve your flexibility, increase muscle tone and prevent injury. It can help make sure that your mornings are much, much more pleasant than the sensations described above.
But, there are right ways and wrong ways to stretch your body. Here are a few helpful tips that can help ensure you take care of yourself and stretch the right way.
First, never, ever stretch cold
As noted by many experts, stretching your muscles “cold” (meaning before you have done exercise to get them moving) may actually have the opposite of the desired effect – it can make your muscles weaker and decrease your overall power. Instead, before you stretch, you should engage in light aerobic activity . This gets the blood moving and helps increase your muscle temperature, which ensures that your muscles are more flexible before you stretch. This will help you get the most out of any stretching activity.
How often should I stretch before exercise? Is it really necessary?
According to the American College of Sports Exercise, yes, it’s a really smart move to stretch before you exercise. Broadly speaking, they recommend that you stretch each major muscle group (calves, back, shoulders, etc.) at least two times a week, for a minimum of sixty seconds, per exercise.
Dynamic vs. static stretching
There is an important difference between the two types of stretching.
- Dynamic stretching is moving in a “gentle and controlled” manner while slowly increasing the range of motion with each movement.
- Static stretching is the type of stretching you likely have the most familiarity with: It involves holding one position for a set period of time. ‘
So, which is better? It depends on where in your workout you are. Research shows that dynamic stretching before a workout can help boost your performance and prevent injury, while static stretching is likely best at the conclusion of a workout.
How long should you hold a stretch? The answer to that really depends on your comfort level, muscle group you are working overall and ability. The answer is typically between 15-60 seconds, but it depends on all of these factors.
Stretch both sides identically
As noted by the Mayo Clinic, it is vitally important that you stretch each side of your body evenly. Failure to do so increases your injury risk.
Stretch for your activity
The types of exercises which may work for one activity – such as running – may be disastrous for other forms of exercise. Before engaging in any sort of comprehensive exercise program, it’s best that you seek out expert advice on what type of stretching is appropriate for whatever sport or activity you’ll be engaging in.
Don’t go too hard!
Remember, the goal of stretching is to prepare your muscles for activity and ensure that you are ready to go, not to cause yourself pain. While feeling tension is appropriate during any stretching exercise, pain is not. If you’re hurting yourself, you’re going too hard.
Don’t just stretch when you are exercising
Sure, stretching before a workout or game has numerous benefits, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only time that you should stretch. Stretching every morning has numerous positives as well, including improved posture, reduced aches and pain and increased levels of energy.
Stretching is so much more than what you learned in your gym class as a kid and does a lot more than prevent injuries. This important type of flexibility exercise has changed, but it’s also increased in importance. Stretching properly has a variety of benefits regardless of your fitness level, and it’s highly recommended that you stretch in order to properly protect your most valuable asset: Your body.