What to stretch
Which muscle to stretch is a difficult question. In general stretching all muscles can be beneficial but the focus must be to find the tight ones and relax them. This is because it is the tight muscles that will cause injury. Tightness is relative issue rather than absolute, for example, being able to touch your toes cannot be said to be a good or bad sign of flexibility unless it is compared to the flexibility of the opposing muscle groups. Differences from side to side of the body are also significant factors in injury, for example, having the left hamstring tighter than the right.
To find out which muscles are tight complete some stretch tests. Then focus on the muscles that are tight on your body. Frequently retest for changes in flexibility and focus for your stretching campaign.
When to stretch
Static stretching should be done after an exercise session or later in the day. E.g. before bed time. Do not do static stretching if you have not done your active stretching routine at some point during that day as your body is not loosened enough to make any progress.
Points to note
- Pain inhibits stretching, do not ever feel pain when stretching, you have gone too far if you do.
Do not try and push the stretches, e.g. I seen people try to break their back in an attempt to touch their toes. Just be patient and use the techniques described.
Do not be too concerned with time to hold each stretch, gauge it by how the muscle releases tension. Remember also something is better than nothing
The three types of stretching routine are called basic hold, hold relax, hold contract.
- Take the stretch to the point of tightness and hold for between 20 – 30 seconds.
Hold – relax
- Take to the comfortable point of tightness and hold.
Continue holding until the muscles relax (20 – 60 seconds)
Now take a deep breath in and out and move the stretch onto the next point of tightness.
Repeat as necessary
Hold – contract
- Take to the comfortable point of tightness.
Now contract the muscle being stretched as hard as possible for 5 – 10 seconds.
Relax, wait 3 seconds and take to the next comfortable point of tightness.
Repeat by contracting the muscle once again for 5 -10 seconds.
Do up to 5 contractions then change stretch before repeating as necessary
Static stretching exercises
Once you have discovered what muscles are tight and in need of stretching. The easiest way to do this is using some simple stretch test. Alternatively stretch the whole body and see which muscles feel really tight.
Then choose any stretch that targets your tight muscles. There are hundreds of different stretches but as long as your tight muscle is being stretched without hurting anywhere else on the body then do not worry about the merits of two similar exercises.
- Perform 3 or 4 times per week after a workout or while at home.
Do not force any stretch, just let the body take you to a comfortable point of tightness.
Use the hold relax or hold contract on muscles deemed particularly tight.
Be particularly vigilant about over stretching the muscles during a hold contract.
Do not allow a partner to push/stretch your muscles, they do not know how tight your muscles are or how hard to push!