Watch runners at the park or weight lifters at the gym. Chances are, they have the wrong idea about stretching. Maybe they’ll grab their heel for a split second to stretch their front thigh, or bend over for a moment to touch their toes.
Here are the basic rules for a useful and safe flexibility workout:
Stretch as often as you can — daily, if possible. Always stretch after every workout, both cardiovascular and strength training. When you stretch on days you don’t work out, be sure to warm up with a few minutes of easy movement like shoulder rolls, gentle waist twists, or light cardio activity.
Move into each stretching position slowly. Never force yourself into a stretch by jerking or snapping into position.
Notice how much tension you feel. A stretch should rate anywhere from mild tension to the edge of discomfort on your pain meter. It should never cause severe or sharp pain anywhere else in your body. Focus on the area you’re stretching, and notice the stretch spread through these muscles.
Never bounce. No matter which type of stretching you choose after you find the most comfortable stretch position, stay there or gradually deepen the stretch. Bouncing only tightens your muscle — it doesn’t loosen it. Forceful bouncing increases the risk of tearing a muscle.
As you hold each position, take at least two deep breaths. Deep breathing promotes relaxation.