Stretching is an important part of any workout routine. You may think of stretching as something performed only by runners or gymnasts. But we all need to stretch in order to protect our mobility and independence. “A lot of people don’t understand that stretching has to happen on a regular basis. It should be daily,” says David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
Below are some tips for proper stretching habits:
- Stretch before and after every workout to prevent injury and improve flexibility.
- Hold each stretch for at least 15-30 seconds to allow your muscles to fully relax and lengthen.
- Breathe deeply and slowly while stretching to help your body relax and improve circulation.
- Focus on the major muscle groups you’ll be using during your workout, but don’t forget to stretch your entire body.
- Avoid bouncing or jerking movements while stretching, as this can cause injury.
- Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your stretches over time to improve your flexibility and range of motion.
Stretching once today won’t magically give you perfect flexibility. You’ll need to do it over time and remain committed to the process. “It may have taken you many months to get tight muscles, so you’re not going to be perfectly flexible after one or two sessions,” says physical therapist David Nolan of Massachusetts General Hospital. “It takes weeks to months to get flexible, and you’ll have to continue working on it to maintain it.”