There’s a lot more to stretching than just bending, leaning, or twisting until you feel a really big pull on your tight muscle. In fact, most people who come into my office (not all of them, mind you. Just most.) have been taught the absolutely wrong way to stretch. Whether you’re stretching prior to exercise, after a workout, or because you’ve got some tight muscles that are making themselves known, you need to follow these 5 basic rules:
Start slow – Move into each stretch slowly. Stop and hold when you just begin to feel the stretch. It won’t feel like much of a stretch, but it’s much more effective than feeling the burn.
Less is more – Your muscles have something called a stretch reflex where they contract to protect themselves from over-stretching. When muscles are over-stretched, they tear. The body doesn’t like to be injured, and it tries especially hard to prevent you from injuring yourself. When you go for a deep stretch that burns, you’ve activated the stretch reflex. That “really good stretch” is the feel of you trying to make the muscle stretch and the muscle trying to protect itself by contracting.
Keep it short – The best stretches last somewhere between 2 and 20 seconds. The tighter the muscle, the shorter the stretch should be. The protective muscle contraction of the stretch reflex also kicks in when you stretch tight muscles for too long.
Don’t bounce – Remember, slow and steady wins the race. When you feel a muscle release during a stretch, you can move a little deeper into it. Bouncing is a good way to activate the protective stretch reflex that you really need to avoid if you actually want to get a good stretch.
Finish slowly – Just as you need to move into each stretch slowly, you also need to come out of each stretch slowly. When you come out of a stretch quickly, your muscles can create a rebound contraction, much the way a rubber band over contracts when you remove it too quickly.
I’ve put these tips in video form. Check out the video below and in the comments let me know what you think.