If you are like me and you take your exercise programs seriously, then you recognize the importance of proper stretching before you begin exercising. You will also agree with me that everyone seems to have a different approach when it comes to stretching exercises that improve flexibility. However, there is a right way to stretch and a wrong way to do it. Here are some scientific tips that I apply to improve my flexibility.
Determine the Right Amount of Flexibility
In most cases, a limited range of motion that is not due to an injury can be attributed to stiff or tight muscles. The tightness can be linked to chronic pain and even poor posture. If my muscles are too tight, then it might be a good idea to stretch them.
However, too much flexibility may make my muscles too loose and even weak. Also, if I am not careful, I may end up inflicting a sprain or dislocation to my joints. Also, if my joints and muscles are too loose, then I might be forced to remedy this condition by taking up resistance training.
So, what is the right amount of flexibility? The level of flexibility depends on the muscle and joint movements that I make daily. If I was a baseball pitcher (in my dreams), then my shoulders should be flexible compared to a basketball player such as LeBron James or Usain Bolt, the runner. If I was a cyclist, I might need more flexibility in my legs, unlike Bruce Lee, a martial arts fighter who might have required more waist flexibility. Just like everything else in life, remember that moderation is vital. So I do not stretch my muscles too fast, and too soon lest I end up inflicting injury to my joints and muscles.
Know the Right Time to Do Static Stretches
Static stretching involves stretching a muscle for a short time. Most people perform these stretches as they prepare to exercise, but this is not the right time for static stretches. Static stretching should not be done as a warm-up exercise. Such stretching reduces the impact of activities and can predispose me to injuries during the workout.
Recent research shows that static stretching right before a workout or playing a sport can hinder performance and lead to decreased muscle strength, reduced jumping height, and slow sprint time. This is not to say that static stretching is bad. It is one of the safest and most effective forms of stretching, but it should not be done as a warm-up exercise.
So when should static stretching be done? Experts recommend that static stretching be done as a cooling down activity after exercising or as the main workout. It is more effective at this time since the muscles are more elastic, warm, and have a lower likelihood of getting injured. Cold muscles should never be stretched while I am static because they are more likely to tear when improperly stretched. Before stretching them, I make sure I perform some dynamic stretches.
Use Dynamic Stretches as a Warm-Up
The best form of warm-up exercises are dynamic low-intensity movements that are similar to the workouts I will be doing later on. Here are some examples:
- If I want to go jogging, then I begin with a slow walk and increase my pace for up to five minutes.
- If I want to bench press, then I start with a few sets; five to 10 with a lighter weight, about 50% to 70% lighter compared to the load that I plan to use later on.
- If its leg day and I want to exercise the leg muscles, I do some high knee marches to warm them up.
Some other dynamic warming up exercises that I engage in include jumping jacks, arm circles and rope skipping. Studies have shown that dynamic stretches raise my blood pressure, thus increasing blood flow to my muscles.
As I mentioned earlier, stretches should be done in moderation. I avoid stretching muscles to the point of being painful because I do not want to suffer from a sprain or strain due to exercise. Thus I stretch a muscle to a comfortable point then hold it in place for a maximum of 15 seconds only.
If you have been wondering how to improve your flexibility, then these practical and scientific tips will help you achieve your goal. The tips apply to professional sportspeople as well as regular folk who want to improve their flexibility during their exercise programs. Sometimes I come across some other suggestions, but I always try and fact check it against relevant bodies such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).