Just like our U.S. Olympic athlete hopefuls, many of us exercise on a daily basis. But surprisingly, many of us don’t stretch before and after a workout like the Olympians do.
Incorporating stretching into your exercise routine is just as important as staying hydrated. Stretching may help you improve your flexibility, enable your muscles to work more effectively and increase your joint range of motion, which consequently may help improve your overall athletic performance and decrease your risk of injury.
There are right and wrong ways to stretching. You’ll want to learn to use proper technique, to make sure you stretch safely and effectively as stretching incorrectly can do more harm than good.
Follow these tips to safely stretch:
- Stretching isn’t a warm-up. You may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. So before stretching, warm up with light walking, jogging or biking at low intensity for five to 10 minutes.
- Focus on major muscle groups. When you’re stretching, focus on major muscle groups such as your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Make sure that you stretch both sides.
- Don’t bounce. Stretch without bouncing as it can cause injury to your muscle.
- Hold your stretch. Hold each stretch for approximately 30 seconds. In areas that are sore or tight, you may need to hold the stretch for a minute.
- Don’t feel pain. You should expect to feel tension while you’re stretching, not pain. Feeling pain means you pushed the stretch too far. You should go back to where you don’t feel any pain and then hold the stretch.
- Make stretches sport specific. Some evidence suggests that it’s helpful to do stretches tailored for your sport or exercise activity. If you play soccer, for example, you’re more prone to hamstring strains. So choose stretches that help your hamstrings.
- Don’t skip the stretching. You can achieve the most benefits by stretching regularly, at least two to three times a week. If you don’t stretch regularly, you risk losing any health benefits that stretching offered.
- Bring movement into your stretching. Gentle movement can help you be more flexible in specific movements. Taking a tai chi or yoga class, which offer gentle movements may be a good way to stretch.
- Know when to exercise/stretch with caution. If you have a chronic condition or an injury you may need stretch with caution. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the most appropriate way to stretch if you have any health concerns.
*Source: Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org
To find a doctor or schedule an appointment, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.