5 Rules for Safe Stretching
Stretching increases the flexibility of muscles thus reducing the risk of injury. However, if not done properly, stretching itself can cause an injury. With these rules, your stretching can be both safe and effective.
1) Stretch warm muscles
Like a rubber band, muscles stretch and return to their neutral state better if they are warmed up first. This means stretching should be done after your pre-workout warm-up and before your post-workout cool-down. Some people tend to forego their warm-up routines and go right to stretching. Without a warm-up first, cold muscles are more susceptible to injury.
2) Do it slowly
You see it all the time at the gym. People extending their muscles to the fully extended position as fast as they can. This is called bouncing and is another way of pushing you into the injury danger zone by accidently extending a muscle farther than it was meant to stretch. The result? You guessed it – a sprain, strain or even major tear.
Instead slowly, gently and smoothly stretch the muscle just to the point where you feel tension in it. If dynamically stretching, hold the stretch for only 2 or 3 seconds before relaxing it; if stretching statically hold for up to 30 seconds.
3) Breathe normally
For some reason, people tend to hold their breath while in a stretch. This tightens up your muscles and is counterproductive to what you are trying to do – loosen things up. You will get more out of your stretching routine if you exhale on the stretch and inhale on the return. Yoga is good for stretching in that it also teaches you how to breathe properly when exercising.
4) Use the full range of motion
The purpose of stretching is to increase the flexibility of a muscle. To get the full benefit, it is necessary to slowly stretch the muscle out to the point of where you feel tension or mild discomfort, hold and return to its relaxed state. Not pushing it to its farthest point of extension does not derive the full benefit of doing a stretching program and will not result in getting full flexibility from that joint.
5) Stretch smart
Keep in mind there is not a standard stretching routine that will fit everyone needs. For example, a person with a shoulder injury will want to avoid shoulder stretches until the injured muscle is healed.
Stretching is the key to staying flexible and reducing the risk of injury, which can take you off your training program for a long time. Use these five rules to stretch safe while at the same time increasing flexibility.