Flexibility is one of the key components of a balanced fitness program. Without flexibility training (stretching), you are missing an important part of overall health. Flexibility prevents injury, increases your range of motion, promotes relaxation, improved performance and posture, reduces stress and keeps your body feeling loose and agile. There is still some controversy over which flexibility exercises are the best and how often one should stretch. Most fitness professionals agree that the principles and guidelines of flexibility training that are about to be discussed are the safest and most effective.
Use Static Stretching
Static stretching involves a slow, gradual and controlled elongation of the muscle through the full range of motion and held for 15-30 seconds in the furthest comfortable position (without pain). This is the first and most important stretching principle. In my opinion, all stretches for each muscle group should be done by using this static form of stretching.
How often you should stretch is still not fully understood. Most professionals would agree however, that daily stretching is best, during and after exercise sessions. Frequent stretching will help you avoid muscular imbalances, knots, tightness and muscle soreness created by daily activities and exercise.
Always Warm-Up Before Stretching
A warm muscle is much more easily stretched than a cold muscle. Never stretch a cold muscle. Always warm-up first to get blood circulating throughout the body and into the muscles. A warm-up should be a slow, rhythmic exercise of larger muscle groups done before an activity. Riding a bicycle or walking works well. This provides the body with a period of adjustment between rest and the activity. The warm-up should last about 5-10 minutes and should be similar to the activity that you are about to do, but at a much lower intensity for about 5-10 minutes and have gotten your muscles warm, you can now stretch.
Stretch Before and After Exercise
I recommend stretching both before and after exercise, each for different reasons. Stretching before an activity (after the warm-up) improves dynamic flexibility and reduces the chance of injury. Stretching after exercise ensures muscle relaxation, facilitating normal resting length, circulation to joint and tissue structures, and removal of unwanted waste products, thus reducing muscle soreness and stiffness. Body temperature is highest right after the cardiovascular exercise program and/or after strength training. In order to achieve maximum results in range of motion and to receive other benefits, it is highly recommended that you do static stretching at this point in your workout, just after your cardiovascular program and during or after your strength-training program.