Good physical health comes from a balance of cardiovascular activity, resistance training and stretching. The three work together to strengthen your body for daily and sporting activities. While most of us are fairly good at getting in cardio, whether it’s running, walking or biking, and more people are lifting weights or using resistance bands, stretching is still something most people skip. But that’s a mistake since stretching plays an important role in our overall physical health.
Stretching improves how your body moves and works. Stretching increases your range of motion, increases the blood flow and oxygen throughout your body and improves your posture.
When stretching, it’s essential to do it correctly or else you could injure yourself. Here are some tips to help you stretch safely:
- Go smooth. Don’t bounce when you’re stretching. The bouncing could lead to an injury so stay still.
- Focus on major muscle groups. Think about your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders.
- Be symmetrical. If you stretch your left hamstring because it feels tight, stretch the right one, too.
- Time matters. Some people stretch too quickly. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. If it’s a problem area, go a bit longer but not over a minute.
- Breathe. Remember to keep breathing normally while your stretch.
- Stop if it’s painful. You’ll likely feel some resistance or tension when stretching, but if something hurts, stop.
- Keep at it. Like other forms of exercise, you benefit the most when you continue to practice.
As to when to stretch, some people benefit from doing it before they work out or hit a sports field, but it’s usually best to do it after you exercise since your muscles are warmed up. Dynamic stretching, which combines light cardio with stretching, is a great way to answer the “when to stretch” dilemma. An example of dynamic stretching would be doing high knees or shoulder rolls while walking.
Adding stretching to your fitness regimen is important to your overall health, improving your flexibility and helping to prevent injuries.