Always keep these six rules in mind when performing any kind of stretch:
- Warm-Up. Before you stretch, your muscles should be warm. An efficient warm-up can include marching, walking in place while swinging your arms, taking a warm shower, or mimicking the sport you are about to do. The warm-up increases the muscle temperature, which increases blood flow to the tissue. The muscle fibers can respond more quickly and efficiently to the stretch.
- Be Gentle. Do not force a muscle to stretch. All you should feel is a gentle pull in the muscle. If after 30 seconds you still feel a pulling sensation, you are stretching too far, which can result in a sore and stiff muscle. Simply ease back to the point where you feel virtually nothing in order to allow the muscle to adapt to its new length. The “no pain, no gain” theory does not apply to stretching.
- Hold for 30 Seconds. Current research shows that a stretch must be held for at least 30 seconds. If you cannot hold the stretch comfortably for this long, then ease back. Anything less than 30 seconds will not give the nerves enough time to adapt to the new length and alter the muscle tone. Only one repetition per muscle is required when done daily. However, if you notice that a muscle on one side is tighter then the same muscle on the other side, you may want to stretch it 2-4 times to fully relax it. Ultimately, you want balance on both sides.
- Breathe. Deep, rhythmic, abdominal breathing helps to improve circulation to muscle tissues. This enhances nutrient flow (especially calcium and magnesium) to muscle fibers. Breathing is also meditative and helps you relax. Holding your breath will make the stretch ineffective.
- Do Not Bounce. Bouncing stresses the joints, ligaments and muscles. It also triggers the protective stretch mechanism within the muscles to contract. As a result, the muscles cannot relax or stretch. Always stretch slowly and gently.
- Stretch Both Sides. Always stretch the right and left sides of an area to maintain balance and symmetry. This will enhance flexibility and performance while reducing the risk of injury. Pay attention to your muscles. If the muscle you stretch responds quickly, you can assume it is healthy and does not require much work. If it is stiff and does not move easily, you may need to repeat the stretch until it relaxes.