While implementing a stretching routine into your workout is very important, performing it correctly is equally as important. There are several simple guidelines to follow that will protect you from injury while stretching and will also help minimize muscle soreness after your workouts.
We’ve all heard this before, but breathing is the perfect “counter” for us during our stretching routine. Take deep breaths as you stretch. It is a good rule of thumb to hold each stretch for a total of 5-6 deep breaths or about 30 seconds and up to 60 seconds for really tight muscles or problem areas. As you exhale each time, extend slightly deeper into the stretch. When you inhale you should relax the stretch slightly and contract the muscle.
Do’s and Don’ts
Don’t bounce as you stretch. This opens you up to muscle tearing and injury. Bouncing as you stretch can cause small tears, called microtears, in the muscle, which will leave scar tissue as the muscle heals. This scar tissue will tighten the muscles even further, making you less flexible.
Don’t overstretch. Your body will tell you its limits…listen to your body. A stretch should be tight, but not painful. If you overstretch you might create an automatic myotatic reflex that will actually cause the muscle to recoil and tighten up to try to protect itself from tearing and injury. You know you have gone too far if you feel pain as you stretch.
Do warm up your muscles first. If possible try and make the warm up as similar to your workout activity as possible. For example some light jogging in place prior to going for a run. Cold muscles simply don’t stretch. Get the blood flowing through your muscles by first performing a minimum of 5 – 10 minutes aerobic work.
When to Stretch
Are you supposed to stretch before or after your workout? That is a very good question. The answer is both. Before running or working out it is important to warm up muscles and get more oxygen to them. A great warm up is jumping jacks for a few minutes then a brief stretch of each of the major muscles. After running or working out, a good stretching routine will help to remove lactic acid from the muscle. This in turn reduces muscle soreness, which promotes better flexibility. You can also perform your stretching exercises while resting between lifts during your strength training.
After your workout when you are all sweaty, take a hot shower first and then stretch. The hot water will help relax the muscles and you’ll get the best stretch.
Follow this general guideline for a safe stretching routine.
Studies have found that when you follow your warm-up with a stretching routine you will increase your range of motion. While flexibility can be genetic, it can also be developed and improved by implementing a solid stretching routine into your workout.
Be sure to check with your doctor or physical therapist before you start a stretching routine.
People are always asking whether or not they should be implementing a stretching routine into their regular workouts. What they should be asking instead is when and how they should be stretching.
Stretching increases your flexibility, which will give you more range of motion and will lower your risk of an injury. Many sports injuries are easily avoided when you implement a proper stretching routine into your workout.
Stretching before you start any workout is very important to avoid injuries, but if stretching is done incorrectly you can cause as much damage as you prevent. The first thing to do is warm up your muscles. Cold muscles are far more likely to be injured than properly warmed up muscles. Light cardio exercise for 5-10 minutes will raise your body temperature to a nice level and your muscles will be far more receptive to the stretch. Think of your body as a high performance race car. You wouldn’t just turn the key and jam your foot on the gas. You need to warm up your motor before racing so it performs at the highest level.
How to Stretch
When stretching a muscle it is important not to stretch too much and cause injuries. Stretch as far as you can go and hold that spot for at least 30 seconds.
This should be done in 5 deep breaths and with each exhale relax more deeply into the stretch. You will feel the tension ease; this is called “muscle melting”. You will be able to feel the lengthening of the muscles and over time you will increase your flexibility with these stretching exercises.
Always use a smooth motion during your stretching routine and NEVER start to bounce as you stretch. Many people will do this thinking they are getting more out of their stretch. In reality, this is one of the most common causes of muscle tears and ligament injuries.
Breathing is another important thing that people forget while stretching. It sounds so simple but most people will start holding their breath when their body is put under stress, like lifting weights or during a stretching routine. Steady breathing will relax your muscles and keep them sufficiently oxygenated, which will prevent injury.
Stretching after your regular workout is another important way to improve your flexibility and this will also help prevent soreness from your workouts. After an intense workout, your muscles build up lactic acid. This is what causes the soreness in your muscle and why some people will skip working out or even stop altogether. By implementing a solid stretching routine you will lower the chances of sore, stiff muscles that leave you thinking of excuses to stop working out.
If you are injured it is recommended that you do not continue your normal stretching routine without first
consulting with a doctor or physical therapist. Continued stretching of a torn muscle can make the injury worse and
prolong your recovery time. Always consult with a physician before starting any type of exercise program.
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