5 Tips For Stretching

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Do you stretch after your workouts?! You definitely should. Even if it’s only for 5 minutes. It will help so much to avoid muscle soreness from your workout, overall tightness, and to maintain healthy range of motion in the body. It will help with your recovery and you’ll just feel better overall when you’re not so tight and stiff. Read on for 5 quick tips to help make your stretches safe and effective.
Understanding some basics for stretching can be really beneficial to your exercise routine. If you lift weights, stretching is key for keeping healthy range of motion in your body. If you're into running or cycling, adding a short stretching routine at the end of your workouts will help you feel more limber overall and help you avoid some common muscles imbalances associated with those activities. And if you're a yogi, this post applies to many, many, yoga poses— but especially the deep stretches at the end of your practice.

5 tips for stretching:

• Get warm first
Get moving before stretching to get your blood flowing and your muscles warm. Stretching cold muscles is not ideal, as you're more prone to injure them without warming them up properly. This is why stretching at the end of a workout is awesome. It's a great time to cool down and let your heart rate, breathing, and body temperature normalize, plus your muscles are good and warm which is the best time to stretch them. Even in yoga, where many poses throughout your practice may involve some muscles workin' hard and others stretching at the same time— it's still safest to keep your deep stretches toward the end of your practice. 
• Stretch slowly
When you stretch, take it easy! Don't just plunge into a deep stretch expecting your end range of motion right off the bat. Approach your stretches by easing into them gradually. After every couple of breaths— if it feels good— you can sink into the stretch a little more. Going too far, too fast, is counterproductive with stretches and your muscles will actually put on the brakes as protection. So, slow and easy does it best. 

• Don’t bounce when you stretch
Static (still) stretching is much preferred over ballistic (bouncing) stretching because it's safer. As I'm typing this, two big reasons come to mind. First, as mentioned in the point above, if you go too far and too fast in a stretch, your muscles will shorten. If you're forcing the bouncing movement on them, you could injure yourself. Second, you could easily hyperextend a joint.  For example, if you're locking your knees and bouncing to touch your toes in a forward fold (which may or may not be in your range of motion even when warm), you could overdo it and actually hyperextend the knee joint.

•Do not cause pain
If you're feeling pain, that's absolutely your body's way of communicating with you. Be careful not to overdo your stretching and cause injury for yourself. Stretching should not be painful. It may not always be comfortable, but it shouldn't be painful. Remember that. Learn to differentiate between those two sensations.

• Keep correct alignment
Think about it this way: we stretch to bring a benefit to our body: to lengthen the muscles, prevent tightness, prevent soreness, and maintain healthy range of motion in the body. If, then, you begin to come out of safe alignment while stretching, the best case scenario is that the benefits are most likely gone, and the worst case scenario is you've put your body at risk of injury. Let's return to a stretch I mentioned already: a good ol' forward fold to stretch the hamstrings. A forward fold (seated or standing) should be done by hinging from the hips. However, doing it correctly probably looks quite different than most people think it should. If you were expecting to flop over onto your shins, then most people are going to be disappointed. So because the correct version isn't as exciting since it doesn't seem like you're going as far into the stretch, many people then start to round their spines to bring their nose toward their shins. When done correctly (hinging from the hips), the hamstrings and even the lower back get a nice stretch in a safe range of motion, and the spine is tall and supported. When done incorrectly (rounding in the spine), the hamstring stretch is lessened, the lower back stretch is lost, and the spine is now in flexion— likely without correct support. 

If you haven't been in the habit of stretching, give it a try  after your next workout! A regular habit of stretching will help your body to feel more limber, maintain (or gain) range of motion, and help with muscle soreness. Yay for stretching!

Love + Light.

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