Learning to stretch safely and effectively is a great goal to have, especially if you are new to exercise in general.
Learn proper stretching techniques.
One of the most important elements of safely stretching is learning the proper technique for you. While bouncing in a stretch (ballistic stretching) isn’t safe to do unsupervised, many stretches can be done safely on your own.
Every human body is different, so everyone’s stretching needs will be different, too. If you have poor balance, then bending over to touch your toes shouldn’t be done without assistance. Someone with a broken arm should avoid unsupervised arm stretches until their bones and muscles heal, but someone else with tight shoulders should focus on moving their right and left shoulders to encourage a healthy range of motion.
Talk to your healthcare professional.
Registered massage therapists, chiropractors, and physiotherapists receive detailed training on the muscles of the human body and how they work. While these professionals and others in similar occupations all have slightly different focuses in their lines of work, they can all help you to best identify the stretches that will help you the most.
Listen to your body to stretch safely.
Stretching should not be painful. If you feel pain, stop immediately, and depending on the severity, seek medical attention. Stretch to the point of tension, but no further. Pain will actually restrict mobility and flexibility instead of enhancing it.
Find out how long to hold each stretch for your needs.
WeStretch’s routines differ in stretch hold time and repetition amounts depending on your purpose for stretching.
If you are warming up or activating your muscles, holding each type of stretch once for 1-2 seconds is adequate.
Increasing your overall mobility is done by holding a stretch for 1-7 seconds and repeating the pose about 4-6 times. This promotes blood flow to tight areas without putting too much pressure on your muscles.
Flexibility training works best by repeating a stretch at least 4 times but holding it for 7-30 seconds. It is imperative that your muscles are properly warmed up beforehand, otherwise, the sudden extension of your muscles can cause pain and damage.
Warm up beforehand.
Muscle activation stretching is a kind of warm-up in itself, but for any serious stretching sessions, make sure your body is tension-free and warm.
You can warm up by going through all the stretching exercises you want to do beforehand with a quick, one-second hold or by doing some light physical activity, like walking or dancing.
Don’t hold stretches for too long.
Holding a stretch for too long can make you stiffer! According to many researchers, to improve flexibility, the ideal hold length of time is about 30-60 seconds. When you hold a stretch for too long, your muscles settle into that position, making them stiffer and harder to move.
The human body needs to be about 60% water to function optimally. Without it, your body can become weak and more susceptible to illness or injury. Stretching stimulates blood flow throughout the body, and regularly drinking water will help maintain and repair your body.
Set goals and make a plan.
Stretching is not a one-and-done activity, but rather something that should be done regularly. Set a consistent time of day that you want to stretch in and build it into your daily routine.
Having a stretching goal will also keep you motivated every day. Whether your goal is to stretch every day for a month or to be able to do the splits, anything that pushes you to keep stretching is great.
Stretching doesn’t have to be complicated!
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This article is not intended to act as or replace medical advice. Please talk to your healthcare practitioner if you have any concerns.
Written by Kayla Willsey