How to Stretch Safely and Effectively

Ask any cat: there are few things as satisfying as a good stretch. Whether it’s after waking up or before a strenuous workout, feeling flexibility creep back into your muscles can make you ready to take on the world. Stretching is an important part of physical health and exercise, but it’s also possible to render it ineffective or even harmful without knowing the basics.

Today, we’d like to talk about safe stretching!

When Should You Stretch?

A common myth is that you should do static stretches before exercising. Static stretches are simple: you hold a pose for 15-30 seconds, similar to what you may remember from gym class. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily true, and some studies have indicated it can actually reduce your range of motion.

While there is still some debate in the scientific community, most experts do agree that a pre-workout warmup followed by post-workout stretching is effective. Light dynamic stretches – stretches marked by careful movement rather than holding a pose – have shown to be an effective part of a pre-workout routine.

You may want to stretch just because it feels good, especially after waking up or sitting all day. And that’s fine! Long, deep static stretches similar to yoga can feel great, just be aware that they can affect athletic performance.

Precautions and Tips

The most important advice for stretching is to not overdo it! Over-stretching can be very painful and cause injuries. When stretching, go slow and slowly lean into a stretch while exhaling. If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong.

Some other tips include:

  • Don’t “bounce” while stretching. While it may be tempting to wiggle a little bit, bouncing can actually tighten your muscles further.
  • Don’t hold it too long. For most static stretches, 15-30 seconds is a good time to strive for. For very deep stretches, 60 seconds is about as high as you should go.
  • Strive for symmetry. Make sure that you mirror all stretches on both sides of your body; having uneven flexibility can be a one-way ticket to injury. This is most important if you’re stretching for activity.

Are you interested in stretching more effectively and safely? Do you have a condition or injury that keeps you from stretching properly? Physical therapy can help! Physical Therapy Partners is a fully independent, locally-owned physical therapy practice that can help you get back on your feet. Contact us today for an appointment!