Everyone has stretched, or at least thinks they have stretched, at some point in their life. Most people learn about it in gym class as something you just do when you exercise. Unfortunately, the information usually stops right there and exercisers are left to figure out the how, the what, and the when to stretch on their own. This leads to some pretty comical situations (like the one in the picture), but also to some dangerous ones, too. Here are some pointers to keep you safe and loose for your next workout:
More is not better. Flexibility is a term that describes the normal extensibility of soft tissues around a joint, not the maximum extensibility. Your body should be able to move comfortably when squatting, pushing, and pressing without feeling restricted or your form being compromised. Too much flexibility can lead to joint instability and injury.
Be gentle. When static stretching, use gentle pressure and hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds. If too much force is put into the stretch, the muscle will just tighten up more and what might feel like a stretch is really just a muscle contracting against itself.
Be selective. Muscle imbalances come in pairs: if you have a muscle that is tight, then you also have muscle at that same joint that is too long. Stretching the wrong muscle can actually make your imbalance worse and increase your risk for injury. You also can't always trust that what you feel to be tight as a muscle that needs to be stretched. Find a qualified trainer who can analyze your body and who knows how to stretch your tight muscles and strengthen your weak ones.
Start and finish with stretching. Begin every workout with proper stretches for your shortened muscles. This will prepare your body for activity and allow it to move better. There is no need to warm-up before your stretches, research has shown that it is safe to do "cold." After your workout, cool-down with those same stretches plus some extras ones for the muscles you worked out.
Follow these basic guidelines and you’ll be back on your way to proper flexibility and better posture. Stay tuned for more articles on this topic!