The Rules of Stretching

1 of 9 in Series: The Essentials of Stretching

Stretching is the key to maintaining your flexibility — in other words, how far and how easily you can move your joints. Your tendons (the tissues that connect muscle to bone) begin to shorten and tighten as you get older, restricting your flexibility. Your movement becomes slower and less fluid. You don’t stand up as straight. You walk more stiffly and with a shorter stride. You find it more difficult to step up to a curb or bend down to pick up the trash. Stretching your rear thigh, hip, and calf muscles can make a big difference.

Watch runners at the park or weight lifters at the gym. Chances are, they have the wrong idea about stretching. Maybe they’ll grab their heel for a split second to stretch their front thigh, or bend over for a moment to touch their toes. That sort of “stretching” isn’t going to make you more flexible, and it may even injure you.

Here are the basic rules for a useful and safe flexibility workout:

  • Stretch as often as you can — daily, if possible. Always stretch after every workout, both cardiovascular and strength training. When you stretch on days you don’t work out, be sure to warm up with a few minutes of easy movement like shoulder rolls, gentle waist twists, or light cardio activity.

  • Move into each stretching position slowly. Never force yourself into a stretch by jerking or snapping into position.

  • Notice how much tension you feel. A stretch should rate anywhere from mild tension to the edge of discomfort on your pain meter. It should never cause severe or sharp pain anywhere else in your body. Focus on the area you’re stretching, and notice the stretch spread through these muscles.

  • As you hold each position, take at least two deep breaths. Deep breathing promotes relaxation.

  • Never bounce. After you find the most comfortable stretch position, stay there or gradually deepen the stretch. Bouncing only tightens your muscle — it doesn’t loosen it. Forceful bouncing increases the risk of tearing a muscle.

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The Essentials of Stretching

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