There’s no doubt you’ve heard fitness professionals preach about the importance of stretching, yet it is so often overlooked in fitness routines. Proper stretching promotes flexibility and injury prevention while improving overall performance. However, not all stretches are created equal.

WHY WE STRETCH

Stretching can significantly enhance your overall health and wellness, alleviate muscle tension, reduce stiffness, promote relaxation, and relieve stress. Good flexibility also contributes to better posture and alignment, reducing your risk of musculoskeletal issues and chronic pain. Regular stretching can also enhance circulation while supporting tissue repair and regeneration. This enhances physical function and vitality while contributing to a healthier and happier lifestyle. In fact, recent studies have found that stretching is “ uniquely associated with a lower risk for all-cause mortality” (Medscape, 2024).

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

It’s essential to understand your body’s limitations and needs before you start stretching. Flexibility levels vary, so listen to your body and avoid pushing into painful ranges of motion. “Everyone’s genetics for flexibility are a bit different. Rather than striving for the flexibility of a dancer or gymnast, focus on having equal flexibility side to side (especially if you have a history of a previous injury)” (Mayo Clinic, 2023). Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity of your stretches over time as your flexibility improves. Our in-home and virtual personal trainers like to use the 7/10 rule: if 10 is as far as you can go, you should stop stretching at 7. In other words, you should stop and hold your stretch as soon as you feel a moderate pull, not pain.

WARM UP

It’s important to avoid stretching cold muscles. Make sure to complete at least a brief warm-up to increase blood flow to your muscles and prepare them for activity. This could be light cardio, such as jogging or jumping jacks, or dynamic movements like arm circles and leg swings. Aim for 5-10 minutes of a warm-up to gently raise your body temperature and loosen stiff muscles. A hot shower pre-stretch can also serve as a warm-up alternative.

PRIORITIZE WEAK SPOTS

When choosing your stretches, prioritize major muscle groups that are commonly tight or prone to stiffness. Don’t just move through a series of poses without thought! Just like strength training, it’s easy to fake your way through a stretch without applying proper mind-muscle connection, which drastically decreases progress and results.

DON’T BOUNCE

One of the most common mistakes people make when stretching is bouncing, otherwise known as ballistic stretching. This can cause micro-tears in your muscles and increase your risk of injury. Instead, opt for static stretches where you hold a position while focusing on deep, controlled breathing. This allows your muscles to gradually relax and lengthen without strain. “For optimal results, you should spend a total of 60 seconds on each stretching exercise. So, if you can hold a particular stretch for 15 seconds, repeating it three more times would be ideal. If you can hold the stretch for 20 seconds, two more repetitions would do the trick” (Harvard Health, 2023). If you’re short on time, a minimum 15-second hold is advised for efficacy.

BREATHE

Breathing plays a vital role in muscle relaxation and maximizing the benefits of stretching by increasing oxygen flow to muscles. Engaging in deep breathing helps to calm the nervous system, which in turn reduces muscle tension and allows for greater relaxation. This relaxation enables muscles to stretch more efficiently and safely.

USE GOOD FORM

Proper form is crucial for effective stretching and injury prevention. Maintain good posture throughout each stretch, avoiding rounding or arching your back. Keep movements slow and controlled, and never force yourself into a position that feels uncomfortable or painful. If a stretch feels too intense, ease off.

ASSISTED STRETCHING

Assisted stretching offers unique advantages that can significantly enhance your flexibility progress. With the guidance and support of a Nielsen Fitness in-home personal trainer in Toronto, Hamilton, Collingwood, London, or Ottawa, assisted stretching can allow for deeper and more controlled stretches than what might be achieved independently. This helps target specific muscle groups more effectively, promotes alignment, increases range of motion, and reduces risk of injury. Your trainer can also help maintain a steady stretch, allowing you to focus more on breathing and relaxation.

Assisted Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is an advanced stretching technique (and Nielsen Fitness favourite) that enhances flexibility and muscle strength through a combination of passive stretching and isometric contractions. PNF involves stretching a muscle to its limit, then contracting it isometrically against resistance, followed by a deeper passive stretch. This targets the body’s proprioceptive system, which involves sensors in muscles and tendons that detect changes in muscle length and tension.

CONSISTENCY

Like any aspect of fitness, consistency is key when it comes to stretching. Aim to incorporate stretching into your daily routine, whether it’s before or after workouts, or as a solo practice. If you’re finding it hard to remain accountable on your own, Nielsen Fitness offers guided and assisted stretching within our in-home and virtual personal training sessions. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you achieve your fitness goals, book your free initial workout today!