Stretching lengthens muscles and improves flexibility. Stretching may increase flexibility and improve the range of motion of your joints.
Also, stretching the big leg muscles – the hamstrings, calves, and quads – simultaneously loosens and lengthens the muscles of your lower back. So, when you stretch, you’re helping your back!
When To Stretch
Recent exercise physiology studies show that static stretching is best done after exercise. Never stretch before you warm up.
The only reason it feels good to stretch even when you’re cold is because your body sends out natural painkillers. To protect your tissues, you need to raise your cardiac pulse in order to fill them with blood. The only way to do this is by working out. Pre-exercise “dynamic warm-ups”, such as torso twists, arm circles, and light jogging, prepare the body for work.
Swimming is the safest way to raise your cardiac pulse. Water reduces shocks to the body because it reduces the felt effect of gravity on your body. Swimming pools are sometimes inaccessible, so an efficient and safe way to raise cardiac pulse would be by cycling (except if you have knee problems).
Always stretch after you work out. Stretching will ensure you have an optimal circulation of body fluids throughout your system and an adequate flexibility which will prevent your connective tissues to pop when you contract your muscle.
Tips for Stretching
- Stretch every day in order to become flexible more quickly.
- All stretches should be held, without movement, for 15-20 seconds. This surpasses the myotatic reflex which prevents any muscle from stretching for the first 10-12 seconds.
- Wear stretchy clothes.
- Exercise carefully to avoid injury – don’t rush! Stretch gently and slowly.
- Perform the exercises slowly to prevent injuries. If you rush, you might pull a muscle or worse. Be sure to include 10 to 15 minutes of stretching as part of your exercise time.
- If some stretches are difficult at beginner level, you might want to use a wall for support, or the assistance of a friend.
- Stretching should not hurt, just inflict a small and negligible instantaneous pain.
- Do not bounce or bob when you stretch – this is not effective and may lead to injury.
- Learn to love the ‘pain’ of stretching.
- Ease into a stretch slowly if it hurts.