Safe Stretching Do's & Don'ts

How to get the most out of stretching.
Stretching can play a key part in your exercise regimen and has numerous benefits including improving flexibility and avoiding muscle soreness. But if done the wrong way, it can actually do more harm than good, warn fitness experts. Here are some tips for making sure that you get the most out of stretching.

1. Warm up first

Don't try to stretch muscles without warming them up first. "Stretching cold muscles hugely increases the risk of injury and scar tissue, leading to reduced flexibility and muscular imbalance," explains Paul Cheesman, a personal trainer who works with Fitness First in the UK. Instead, do 5-10 mins of light activity such as walking before you start stretching or reserve it for after a workout.

2. Don't bounce while stretching

This type of bouncing stretch -- also known as ballistic stretching -- is a common mistake and risks pulling or tearing the muscle you're trying to stretch. Static stretching, where you hold a sustained stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, is much gentler on your body because you ease your muscles into it.

3. Only stretch to the point of mild discomfort

Always stretch gently or you risk doing yourself an injury. Feeling slight tension during the stretch is normal but not pain. "You need to ease into a stretch to find that point at which enough is enough," emphasizes Cheesman. "Jumping into stretches that are way too deep and hard will almost always cause an injury or muscle tear so the key is to ease into a stretch, hold and ease back out again."

4. Breathe deeply while stretching

This will encourage your body to relax so that your muscles are in the best shape for stretching. "Breathing deeply and slowly allows the oxygenated blood to flow to the muscle and relax it to increase the stretch," explains Cheesman. Take long deep exhales as you go slowly into a stretch. As you breathe in, relax out of the stretch and ease back into it on the next deep exhale.

5. Get advice to avoid injury

If you are unsure of how to stretch properly or have had a previous injury, check with your health professional before stretching. You might want to consider consulting a personal trainer to start things off on the right foot. "A professional will be able to spot which muscles are tight and weak, and will create a program based around your muscular imbalances to strengthen weaker muscles and lengthen tight muscles," says Cheesman.

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