Stretching has a tremendous amount of important benefits, and it should always be a part of any regular workout routine. Do you know the specifics of stretching properly? For instance: How long should you hold a stretch? How often should you stretch? Should you do pre-workout stretches or post-workout stretches?
Read on to discover how long to hold a stretch, how often to stretch, and which stretching exercises might be right for you.
Why Is Stretching So Important?
Stretching can provide many potential health benefits. Proper stretching may support:
Increased Flexibility And Range Of Motion
Stretching every day has major potential benefits: It supports muscle flexibility and the range of motion in your joints. On the flip side, too much stretching may offset these benefits, although, overall, stretching acts to help lower your injury risk.1
Circulation And Blood Flow
Working out increases blood flow to your muscles and joints. Stretching after finishing the workout may further increase blood flow, raise blood oxygen levels, and help transport nutrients throughout your body and your muscles. This assists in the recovery process after a workout.2,3
Mood And Wellbeing
Stretching contributes to not only moving your body but also enhancing your mood. In addition to helping with better posture and spine alignment, it may also help calm the mind.4
Balance And Alignment Of Your Body
Stretching exercises of the lower extremities have been shown to be effective at supporting good balance and potentially help reduce falls, particularly among the elderly.5
Post-workout stretching exercises may help relax tight muscles and relax your mind. Stretching two to three times per week might contribute to health and stress reduction. Even the gentle muscle stretching of yoga may help to manage stress.6
The more flexible a muscle, the less likely it is to become injured due to a sudden move. Stretching increases the range of motion for a given joint, which then decreases the resistance on the body’s muscles during a given activity.7
Best Time To Stretch: Before Or After Exercise?
There are many opinions on the best time to stretch. Most people agree that stretching is a vital part of exercising that mitigates the risk of injury. Read on to learn more about the best time to stretch.8
What Is The Ideal Way To Stretch?
There are multiple types of stretching. These include static stretching, dynamic stretching, and passive stretching. Each works better at different points in your exercise routine.9
The most familiar type of stretch is a static stretch. Static stretching consists of holding a pose for 20-30 seconds. A familiar static stretch routine may include touching your toes or holding one arm across your chest to stretch your shoulder.10
A very beneficial stretch method is performing dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretching involves putting a particular muscle through its range of motion 10-20 times. Examples include swinging a leg back and forth or rotating your trunk to warm up your back.11
The Best Time To Stretch
Are pre-workout stretches beneficial? Studies have shown that stretching before exercising may actually result in decreased strength, power, and explosive performance.12 As the muscles are not yet warmed up, static stretching does not necessarily prevent injury.13
One way to get around this potential problem is to engage in an active warmup, like performing jumping jacks or taking a brisk walk. This warms up the muscles and gets the heart pumping.
How Long Should I Hold A Stretch?
How long you hold a stretch makes a big difference in your range of motion. In general, the longer the stretch, the greater the range of motion. For instance, a 15-second period of time has been shown to be more effective than a 5-second stretch (or no stretch at all).14 Feeling muscle tension is normal. However, it should never be painful.15 Never push your body past its limits. Doing so can cause severe injury. If you’re not sure what your body can handle, talk to your doctor about the best ways to stretch.
Avoid These Common Stretching Mistakes
Holding Your Stretches Too Long – Or Not Long Enough
There is a sweet spot of about 30 seconds for holding hamstring muscles to increase range of motion. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that holding the muscle for as much as 60 seconds, or increasing the frequency from one to three times per day, does not increase flexibility. Thirty seconds should suffice for an effective stretch.16
Again, you don’t want to overdo it. High-intensity stretching in too short a time period may put excessive strain on the muscle fibers.17 Take it slow and always work your way up to hold a longer stretch.
Only Stretching Post-Workout Or Not Warming Up First
Although stretching with cold muscles before working out can be dangerous, only stretching after a workout may also cause problems.
Exercises should be done in the right sequence. An improper stretch with cold muscles might lead to injury. Starting with a warmup, like doing a few jumping jacks, is an effective way to help ensure that your muscles are warmed up. Then you can perform some pre-workout stretches.18
Doing The Wrong Type Of Stretch
The wrong type of stretching may also lead to injury. For instance, in order to avoid damage to muscle, dynamic stretches should always be performed after static stretches.19
Ideally, if you have stretched properly, you shouldn’t be too sore afterward. Soreness might be a sign of overstretching, and it often comes from stretching cold.20
Start With Some Simple, Effective Stretches For Beginners
What are some basic stretches? You can start with some simple stretching exercises. Here are some examples. Just make sure to get your Doctor’s approval before giving any new stretch a try.
Hamstring Stretch With Resistance Band
Tight hamstrings are very common, but they can be lengthened and strengthened by stretching. One simple stretch is the assisted hamstring stretch. While lying on the floor with legs extended, hook an elastic band or towel around the ball of one foot. Slowly raise your leg by pulling the towel or band toward you, making sure to keep your knee straight. You should feel some muscle tightness in your hamstring. Hold this stretch for up to 30 seconds.21
Lunging Hip Flexor Stretch
One of the most important muscle groups to stretch is the hip flexors. In particular, sitting for long durations causes the hip muscles to become short and tight, which causes your pelvis to tilt forward. This can also lead to other aches and pains, such as lower back pain.22
This stretch can be done by kneeling on your left knee, placing your right foot flat on the floor. Making sure your right knee is bent, lean forward, stretching your left hip toward the floor. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then switch sides and do it again.23
Overhead Shoulder Stretch
Overhead stretches are helpful for maintaining range of motion in the shoulder. Regular stretching can be done once or twice a day, standing with legs shoulder-width apart, arms at each side. With palms facing down, interlock your fingers, raise your arms and scratch over your head, turning palms to face the ceiling. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds.24
Neck And Torso Stretch
This stretch is easy to do wherever you go. You can begin by bending your head forward, until your chin rests on your chest and you feel resistance in the back of the neck. Hold for a few seconds and return to your starting position.25
Child’s Pose Yoga Stretch
Yoga is full of stretches. The Child’s Pose is a yoga stretch that gently stretches the muscles of the lower back. It evenly stretches the posterior spinal structures and is also very good for resting the mind.26
The Child’s Pose can be done by getting on your hands and knees on a yoga mat. Start by spreading your knees as wide as the mat. The tops of your feet should be on the floor, with your big toes touching. Rest your belly between your thighs and plant your forehead on the floor. Shoulders, jaw, and eyes should be relaxed. There are several variations of this stretch, but the most common one is to stretch your arms in front of you with your palms facing the mat. Hold it as long as you’d like.27
Choosing The Right Stretches
Although it may at first appear to be a very simple task, there is a right and a wrong way to stretch. Knowing the fundamentals can help protect you from undue risk of injuries or muscle tissue damage.
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