Stretching helps flexibility, improves joint range of movement and reduces risk of injury.
Stretching incorrectly can do more harm than good. But what is the best and safest way to stretch?
Use these tips to keep stretching safe:
- Don’t stretch cold muscles as you may hurt yourself. Stretching should not replace a warmup. Before stretching, warm up with walking, jogging or cycling at low intensity for five to ten minutes.
- Stretch after your workout when your muscles are warm.
- Try dynamic stretching as well as static stretching. 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. Focus on having equal flexibility from one side of your body to the other side. Often flexibility is not the same on both sides because we have habits of loading up one side more than the other over time. This increases the risk of injury but can be helped with stretching.
- Concentrate stretching of the major muscle groups including the calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Make sure that you stretch both sides equally.
- 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 by over stretching the muscle before it has eased to a certain length and can result in small micro tears of the muscle.
- Hold your stretch. Breathe normally and hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. In problem areas, you may need to hold for longer – up to 60 seconds. This allows time for the muscle fibres to give.
- Do not stretch into pain. You may feel tension when you stretch which is different to pain. If it hurts, you’ve pushed the stretch too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
- Make stretches task or sports specific. Some evidence suggests that it’s helpful to do stretches involving the muscles used most in your sport or activity.
- Be consistent with your stretching. 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.
- Aim to stretch the major muscle groups twice in a session for at least 30 seconds, three sessions a week.