Tips for stretching and flexibility exercises

If you’re confused about the purpose and correct way to stretch, you’re not alone. Over the years, the rules of stretching have changed and as a result, research shows many people continue to stretch the wrong way. But don’t let this keep you from stretching. Because confusing as it may be, stretching is an important part of your exercise routine.

Ever wonder what the big deal is about stretching? Want to know the best way to stretch? Read on to find out.

Have trouble reaching down to tie your shoes? Feel stiff in the morning when you get out of bed? Stretching improves your flexibility so exercise and the movements of daily life are easier and safer. This is a huge asset later in life.

Besides flexibility, stretching offers many other benefits. It can improve your fitness level, reduce your risk of injury, lessen muscle soreness and tension, improve circulation, relieve painful joints, help your body and mind relax, improve posture and reduce the pains of menstrual cramps in women.

The best order of your exercise routine should be a general warm-up, dynamic stretches, working out, cool down and then static stretches. Don’t consider a few minutes of stretching your warm-up. Spending 10 minutes for light activity such as walking or slow jogging to warm up your muscles is important before your stretch. Without a proper warm-up and gentle stretches, you’re more prone to injury.

After your workout, don’t think a period of stretching is a sufficient cool-down. The best way to prevent muscle soreness, fatigue, and cramping is to have a decent cool-down period. For at least five to 10 minutes, slow your pace and let your heart rate and breathing slow down. Lastly, it’s time for static stretches.

Before and after a workout isn’t the only time you can stretch. Stretch anytime of day. This could be upon getting out of bed, during your lunch break, or before bed. Any bit of stretching helps, so stretch it out as often as possible!

After your warm-up, a few dynamic stretches help prepare your muscles for exercise.

Dynamic stretches include the movements you’ll be doing in your workout, but are less intense versions. This type of stretching moves your muscles through their range of motion. Rather than standing still and holding a stretch, you’re moving and stretching your muscles. This could be lunges, kicks, twists, or sweeping motions.

Following your cool down is the time for static stretches. You’ll get in a position that stretches your muscles and hold it. The best order of stretching is first your upper and lower back, then your sides, buttocks, calves, hamstrings, shins, quadriceps, arms, then chest.

How long do you hold a static stretch? In most cases, a good rule for adults is to hold for 20 to 30 seconds. For kids and teens, 10 seconds should be long enough. Do several repetitions of each stretch, resting 15 seconds between reps.

To get the most out of your stretches make sure you’re breathing properly. The ideal way to breathe will help you relax, increase your blood flow, and reduce the build up of lactic acid, which can make your muscles sore. Take slow breaths by inhaling through your nose and expanding your abdomen (not your chest). Hold it a second then exhale through your nose.

Anytime you’re stretching, whether is during a dynamic or static stretch, you shouldn’t feel any pain. You’ll feel slight discomfort, but don’t reach farther than your normal range of motion. Stretching should be done gradually, not rushed. As you’re holding a stretch, don’t bounce and keep breathing.

Remember—always stretch when your muscles are warm. It’s easy to overstretch and hurt your muscles if you stretch when your muscles are cold. Overstretching will only cause soreness and decrease flexibility.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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