To stretch or not to stretch is an important question. Stretching increases flexibility, reduces your risk of injury, and improves your overall circulation. However, it is possible to injure yourself while stretching if you are not practicing safe stretching methods.
Stretching During Warm-Up
It is easy to injure yourself while stretching if your muscles are cold. A qualified fitness instructor will know to lead an aerobics class, yoga class or other group activity by first warming up your muscles before diving into a stretching routine. When working out at home, you will want to make sure to spend five to ten minutes first raising your body temperature. When your muscles are warm, you will feel a greater stretch and less of a pull or strain.
Holding the Stretch
For stretching to be effective, you will want to hold each position for a minimum of 30 seconds. This is often described as a melting of the muscle. The longer you hold the stretch, the less challenging it feels. You feel a lengthening. When you are careful to devote more time to each stretch, you will see greater flexibility across time.
Avoid Bouncing When Stretching
Hold your stretches as opposed to bouncing in a position. Easing into each stretch will give you the lengthening you need. When you bounce, you risk tearing and injuring your muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Breathing During Stretches
When doing a challenging task, it is common to hold your breath. This is a common behavior when stretching as well. Touching your toes or doing a side stretch may feel strenuous. When your mind is preoccupied with how difficult the position is, you may forget to breathe. However, breathing deeply during your stretch will oxygenate your cells. It will help you to reach your goals faster.
Stretching After Working Out
One of the best ways to lengthen your muscles is to stretch after you work out. Stretching during warm-up prior to exercise is generally a given. However, it is just as important to stretch when you finish your workout. Your muscles are warm and stretching them at this time will not only be easier for you, it will decrease any soreness you may feel after a strenuous workout.
Avoid Stretching When Injured
If you are recovering from an injury, stretching the injured muscles should generally be avoided. This can be tricky, especially if you have not yet seen a doctor about your injury.
If you are feeling a sharp pain or inflammation, you will want to avoid stretching that part of your body. In the event of a tear in the muscle, ligament or tendon, stretching will only aggravate the problem. If you are injured, it is important to rest and follow the advice of a qualified professional.
To stretch in absence of an injury is always a good idea. Stretch when your muscles are warm, both before and after your workout. Hold your stretches, avoid bouncing and breathe through each stretch for best results.