Stretching is an often overlooked — yet important — part of any fitness routine. If you like to workout, your joints need to be able to move easily, and stretching helps that happen.
It also keeps your tendons (the tissues that connect muscle to bone) from shortening and tightening as you get older, which can improve your speed, fluidness and posture (and help you avoid having stiff, short steps).
To stave off any mobility restrictions, stretching your rear thigh, hip, and calf muscles can make a big difference. But the runners you see at the park or at the gym might have the wrong idea about stretching.
Maybe they’ll grab their heel for a split second to stretch their front thigh, or bend over for a moment to touch their toes. That sort of “stretching” isn’t going to make you more flexible, and it may even injure you.
Here are the basic rules for a useful and safe flexibility workout:
1. Stretch as often as you can — daily, if possible. Always stretch after every workout, both cardiovascular and strength training. When you stretch on days you don’t work out, be sure to warm up with a few minutes of easy movement like shoulder rolls, gentle waist twists or light cardio activity.
2. Move into each stretching position slowly. Never force yourself into a stretch by jerking or snapping into position.
3. Notice how much tension you feel. A stretch should rate anywhere from mild tension to the edge of discomfort on your pain meter. It should never cause severe or sharp pain anywhere else in your body. Focus on the area you’re stretching, and notice the stretch spread through these muscles.
4. As you hold each position, take at least two deep breaths. Deep breathing promotes relaxation.
5. Oh, and the biggie here is never bounce. After you find the most comfortable stretch position, stay there or gradually deepen the stretch. Bouncing only tightens your muscles and increases the risk of a muscle tear.