How To Stretch Guide
Knowing how to stretch safely can have numerous benefits for your body, and your mind. My weekly ‘Stretch and Unwind’ Physiotherapy exercise class is up there with my favourite classes of the week, it leaves me feeling physically relaxed and emotionally energised.
The great news is that when repeated over time, stretching can make lasting improvements to physical flexibility. Stretching can be done at any age, helping us all to counteract the tightness and stiffness that creeps up on us with increasing age.
Read on to learn how to stretch safely and effectively with:
- Benefits of knowing how to stretch
- How to stretch guidelines
- Mindful stretching
- How to stretch safely.
Benefits of Knowing How to Stretch
Stretching has many potential benefits including:
- Joint and muscle flexibility (can ease physical stiffness and discomfort.
- Improved posture for sitting and standing (can improve the functioning of our core muscles including our abdominals and our pelvic floor muscles).
- Better balance to reduce your risk of falls and injury.
- Physical and emotional relaxation.
How to Stretch Guidelines
The ACSM1 official guidelines for how to stretch are as follows:
Duration – hold each stretch for 10-30 seconds at the position where tightness or slight discomfort is felt. With increasing age, 30-60 second stretches may provide even greater benefit.
Repetitions – repeat each stretch 2-4 times so that you can achieve a total of 60 seconds stretching. Some of us may need to perform shorter holds more frequently, whilst those of us who can maintain longer duration stretches may only need to repeat the stretch a few times in a row.
Frequency – stretching exercises should be performed at least 2-3 days per week. Daily stretching results in greater flexibility.
Muscles or areas to stretch – stretches should be included for the major muscle groups of the body i.e. calf, front and back of thigh, low back, trunk, chest, shoulder and neck. Whole body flexibility or stretching routine for these muscles should take around 10 minutes in total.
When to Stretch?
Muscles stretch best when they are warm. The two ways to warm up your muscles for stretching are immediately following:
- Light to moderate aerobic exercise e.g. 10 minute walk; or
- A hot bath or hot packs on specific muscles.
Ideally your stretching exercises should be done after your cardiovascular workout. There is no evidence to date to suggest that stretching before exercise will reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injury.
Mindful stretching is an excellent way to bring your attention to the present moment and improve self awareness. Mindfulness is advocated as a technique to promote mood regulation and even treat depression.
Mindful stretching can involve:
- Attending to the physical sensation of your muscle stretching.
- Noticing variations in different stretches without judging or criticizing yourself.
- Enjoying the moment as you stretch.
- Listening to pleasant background music as you stretch.
- Paying attention to your steady relaxed breathing as you stretch.
How to Stretch Safely
- Stretch your muscles to the point of mild discomfort only, not beyond. Be guided by the sensation associated with the stretch and avoid overstretching.
- Avoid overstretching your joints beyond your normal range of movement.
- Avoid or modify stretches that cause you physical discomfort unless specifically advised otherwise by your qualified health practitioner.
- Avoid bouncing stretches to avoid overstretching, try to keep your stretches smooth.
- Take your time when stretching moving gradually into and out of the stretch.
- Progress your stretches and range of movement gradually over repeated stretching sessions.
- Be aware of those areas of your body that may be vulnerable to injury, you may need to modify stretches of vulnerable areas e.g. low back.
- Be mindful of physical differences when it comes to stretching. Most of us differ with regards to our flexibility and physical ability, so one stretch does not always suit everybody.
- Take particular care during partner stretching where the risk of overstretching and injury is increased.
- Ensure that your body position is comfortable and well supported when stretching to avoid potential strain.
- Breathe out as you move into your stretch to help physical relaxation and avoid breath holding during your stretch.
- Speak to a Physiotherapist for a stretching program suited to your body if you are unsure about the right stretches for you.
Knowing how to stretch can have wonderful benefits for your physical and emotional wellbeing. This article is designed to help you better understand just how to stretch and reap the benefits that stretching can bring to your life.
1 Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise. Special Communications: Position Stand. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: July 2011,Volume 43 (7), pp 1334-1359.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Michelle Kenway
Michelle Kenway is a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and author of Inside Out – the Essential Women’s Guide to Pelvic Support. The Inside Out exercise DVD and book show women how to strengthen the pelvic floor and exercise effectively with pelvic floor safe exercises.