A key element of fitness, stretching gets your muscles ready for a workout and improve flexibility. Flexibility is related to muscle tension and length, and is a component of mobility, which is the degree to which you can move a joint through its full range of motion. As we age, maintaining mobility and performing basic movements becomes difficult because our muscles become shorter and tend to lose their elasticity. Stretching exercises increase flexibility of the joints and help older adults remain active and independent. They also offer many other benefits which enhance quality of life and promote healthy aging. Stretching can also often relieve a stiff neck, back pain, and sore knees.
A good stretch is long, slow and relaxed. A safe and effective stretch will maximize flexibility while reducing your risk of injuries. Here are 8 tips for safe stretches:
- Warm up your muscles first: This is the first and must-do step of stretching. Stretching cold muscles may result in injury so always do a brief warm-up, such as jogging in place, brisk walking, riding a stationary bike or doing less-vigorous rehearsals of the sport or exercise you are going to perform. This will help increase the heart rate and blood flow and raise the temperature of muscles, ligaments and tendons. Muscles stretch more easily when they are warm. Other effective first steps include moist heat packs or a warm shower.
- Stretch safely: Vigorous stretching is not recommended. Stretch only to the point of mild tension, never to the point of pain. If you feel any pain, stop immediately and reset your position and then try again. Static stretching, in which you stretch through a muscle’s full range of movement until you feel resistance but not pain, is probably the safest type.
- Stretch opposing muscles: While stretching you might notice that one side of your body often is tighter than other. If so, try to stretch opposing muscles to balance this. Work opposing muscle groups each time you stretch – if you start by stretching the muscles in the back of your thigh, then follow by stretching the muscles at the front.
- Get advice to avoid injury: It’s always better to check with your doctor before performing stretching. By doing so, you can get advice on how to stretch properly or how to stretch if you have had a previous injury.
- Breathe normally: Breathing normally while performing stretching is very important, as this type of exercises doesn’t require you to hold your breath or any other special breathing exercises.
- Perform stretching routinely: To benefit from stretching, make sure you stretch frequently. Regular stretching improves your balance, strength and flexibility.A session should last 10 to 20 minutes, with each static stretch held for at least 10 seconds (working up to 20 to 30 seconds) and usually repeated about four times (http://www.berkeleywellness.com).
- Posture: Posture matters whether you’re sitting, standing, or moving. So pay attention to good posture and form. This will improve flexibility and reduce risk of injury when stretching tight muscles.
- Stretch after workouts: Similar to warming up at beginning of any workout, it’s also better to warm up at the end of the session. After a workout, the muscles are left in a shortened state. Stretching brings them back to their normal resting length and promotes recovery.
Stretching is a crucial part of a workout plan and serves as a mental and physical warm-up routine before exercise. Stretching properly before and after you work out will prevent injury, loosen up problem tight areas before injuries occur, and improve posture.