By Bill Kray
The benefits range from increased mobility to improved circulation. Proper stretching techniques prevent unnecessary injury. Here are some tips for proper stretching technique along with a video of a professional contortionist:
- Warm up first
Stretching muscles when they're cold increases your risk of pulled muscles. Warm up by walking while gently pumping your arms, or do a favorite exercise at low intensity for five minutes.
- Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds
It takes time to lengthen tissues safely. Hold your stretches for at least 30 seconds — and up to 60 seconds for a really tight muscle or problem area. That can seem like a long time, so wear a watch or keep an eye on the clock to make sure you're holding your stretches long enough. For most of your muscle groups, if you hold the stretches for at least 30 seconds, you'll need to do each stretch only once.
- Don't bounce
Bouncing as you stretch can cause small tears (microtears) in the muscle, which leave scar tissue as the muscle heals. The scar tissue tightens the muscle even further, making you even less flexible — and more prone to pain.
- Focus on a pain-free stretch
If you feel pain as you stretch, you've gone too far. Back off to the point where you don't feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
- Relax and breathe freely
Don't hold your breath while you're stretching
- Stretch both sides
Make sure your joint range of motion is as equal as possible on each side of your body
- Stretch before and after activity
Light stretching after your warm-up followed by a more thorough stretching regimen after your workout is your best bet
The benefits of stretching are many but it is not for everyone. Conditions in which stretching should be avoided include acute muscle strains, fractured bones and joint sprains.