By Erin A. Drake
Stretching does not have to be time consuming; in fact, most productive stretching can be completed within 10 to 15 minutes in the comfort of your own home or office. Unsurprisingly, there are several health benefits to practicing a daily stretch routine including:
• Increased circulation for improved performance
• Improved flexibility
• Promotes range of motion and reduces risk of injury
• Improved posture.
• Stress reduction and prolonged muscle tension
• Mental clarity and increased focus
8 Things to Remember when Stretching
1. Stretch safely using proper technique. The most important part of stretching is to make certain you are safe in your stretch. This means remembering proper joint alignment like stacking your joints for optimal support (i.e., knees over ankles; shoulders over elbows). Incorrectly stretching can increase the risk of injury, so be sure to check with a health professional or personal trainer to ensure you are using correct postural form in your stretches.
2. Stretch when muscles are warm. Contrary to popular belief, stretching is not a warm up. In fact, stretching non-warm muscles can cause injury. Select an easy warm-up, such as marching in place or walking briskly before stretching.
3. Avoid stretching before an intense physical event. Recent research noted by the Mayo Clinic suggests that stretching before an intense athletic event may inhibit performance. The Mayo Clinic suggests, “instead of static stretching, try performing a ‘dynamic warm-up.’ 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.”
4. Keep it simple. Select a routine that is easy for you to remember and easy to duplicate; this way, you are more likely to stick to your routine.
5. Hold the stretch and focus where it feels tight. To get the maximum benefit of a stretch, hold it for 15 to 30 seconds, repeat it three or four times, and focus on the muscles that feel the most sore.
6. Pain is NOT gain. If you are injured, ease up on the area of concern to avoid exacerbating an injury. Be careful not to overstretch a painful area, as this can cause unnecessary microtears in the muscle fibers.
7. Be balanced and symmetrical. In other words, if you do a stretch on one side, then do it on the other to avoid causing muscle imbalance. This applies to the front and back of the body, and from side to side.
8. Keep your routine. Repetition is the key to maximizing the benefits of stretching; the more you stretch, the more your body will respond by increasing your flexibility, circulation and range of motion.
Erin A. Drake, MA, CYT, MT, is a yoga instructor at Feed Your Soul Fitness, FeedYourSoulFitness.com.