Whether you work out regularly or not, you could probably stand to add a little more stretching and muscle restoration into your fitness routine. Long days of sitting at a desk, high impact workouts, and the daily stresses of life in general all contribute to the tightening and tensing up of bodies. That is why consisten stretching is crucial for optimal health! The thing is, not all stretching techniques are equally beneficial or safe. Knowing when and how to stretch will help you prevent injuries, increase flexibility/mobility, and properly prepare/repair your body pre and post workout. Here are some life-changing stretching tips and techniques that I have picked up along the way!
ORDER- Believe it or not, the order of muscle groups stretched matters a lot. So many people start at the neck down or the legs up… or even just randomly stretch muscle groups based on what feels tight at the moment… but the reality is, it’s super important to systematically stretch muscle groups in a specific order. Without specificity, we can limit the flexibility of smaller muscles, as they often require mobility of large muscles in their respective stretches. For instance, hamstring stretches often involve the low back. For this reason, the lower back should be properly stretched and released before moving on to the legs. A great order of stretching is:
Back and Torso
Hips and Pelvis
Quadriceps, Calves, Ankles, Feet
Shoulders, Arms, Wrists, Hands
Techniques- The way you stretch can help or hurt you immensely so it is super important that you utilize techniques that are safe and effective. If your stretches are too instense or don’t follow a proper safety protocol, you will not only increase your risk of injury, but you can cause your muscles to tighten up and consequently lose flexibility. So how do you ensure that your stretches are properly done? First of all, avoid overstretching. If you stretch to the point that breathing is uncomfortable or there is literal pain (different than a slight discomfort), you will cause your muscles to overstretch, which can lead to pulling, tightening, or tearing in extreme cases. In addition, do not bounce in stretches. This will lead to microtears in your muscles… once again causing damage. Instead, find a place in your stretch where you are challenged and even slightly uncomfortable, then hold for 30 seconds while breathing slowly. Take a 10 second rest between stretches. Another great technique for improving flexbility is PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) stretching. This involves the contraction and release of muscles in a stretch. Try contracting in your stretch- resisting and engaging your active musclegroups- for a bout 10 seconds. Then, release and melt into your stretch for 15. Do this about 3 times within a single exercise. Finally, make sure to begin each workout with a dynamic stretch sequence. This means moving slowly and continuously through your body in ways that increase range of motion and get you nice and warmed up. Avoid holding deep stretches at the beginning of a workout.
Props- While your bodyweight is awesome for stretching, utilizing props is a great way to get deep into muscles and roll out knots. Lacrosse balls, tennis balls, and foam rollers are all great tools for restoration and they each come with a plethora of exercises you can try! At least once a week, try to use a prop to roll out your entire body (using our preferred order of muscle groups, of course).
As you employ these strategies, aim for consistency. A small amount of stretching daily goes so much farther than binge stretching on a weekly (or monthly) basis. Even if you spend 10 minutes releasing tight muscles while watching tv, you will be doing yourself a huge favor.