Stretching can help improve flexibility, and increase the range of motion in your joints. Better flexibility will improve your performance of physical activities and decrease your risk of injuries by helping your joints move through their full range of motion and enabling your muscles to work more effectively.
Use these tips to keep stretching safe:
Don’t consider stretching a warm-up. You may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. So before stretching, warm up with light walking, jogging, or biking at low intensity for 5-10 minutes. Or better yet, stretch after you exercise when your muscles are warmed up.
Strive for symmetry. Everyone’s genetics for flexibility are a bit different, so rather than striving for that gymnast or ballet dancer degree of motion, focus on having equal flexibility side to side (especially if you have a history of a previous injury). Don’t bounce. Stretch in a smooth movement, without bouncing. Bouncing as you stretch can cause injury to your muscle.
Hold your stretch. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds; in problem areas, you may need to hold for around 60 seconds. Breathe normally as you stretch.
Don’t aim for pain. Expect to feel tension while you’re stretching, not pain. If it hurts, you’ve pushed too far.
Bring movement into your stretching. Gentle movement can help you be more flexible in specific movements. The gentle movements of tai chi or yoga, for instance, are a great way to stretch.
Keep up with it. Stretching can be time-consuming. But you can achieve the most benefits by stretching regularly, at least two to three times a week. Finally, don’t think that because you stretch you can’t get injured. Stretching, for instance, won’t prevent an overuse injury. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the most appropriate way to stretch if you have any health concerns.
(Article courtesy of the Mayo Clinic)