- Start with a warm up, not stretches. Did you know stretching pre-workout can actually decrease performance? The perfect warm-up is simply a lower-intensity version of whatever exercise you are about to perform. The goal during this time is to slowly increase the temperature of muscle tissue to prevent injury.
- Stretch at the end of your workout. For best results, stretch when muscles are warm, after bringing your heart rate back to a comfortable zone. Static stretches, or stretches held in place, are most effective. Follow the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines and hold each stretch for 20 to 40 seconds. This will increase blood flow to the muscle and improve workout results. Stretching consistently over time will lead to improvements in flexibility and range of motion.
- Focus on main muscle groups. Pay attention to the calves, hips, thighs, lower back, neck and shoulders. Always stretch on both sides and focus on performing stretches that are sport-specific. For instance, runners should focus on stretching the hamstrings, hips and calves thoroughly.
- Listen to your body. Make sure to breath. Inhale to prepare and exhale before going a little deeper into a stretch. If you ever feel pain, stop immediately, back off to a comfortable point and hold. Never bounce when holding a stretch.
Stretching after exercise can help relax and balance tension caused by a workout and save you from tight, sore muscles the following day. Make stretching a habit every time you hit the gym to reap the benefits.