A complete exercise program includes aerobic activity (running, walking, biking – anything that increases your heart rate), strengthening (using bands, weights or even just your own body weight as resistance) and stretching. Stretching exercises help you to cool down after completing your exercise routine for endurance and strengthening, help prevent muscle injury and help maintain the flexibility you need to more easily perform your activities of daily living.
The “old wisdom” was to stretch before AND after you completed your other exercises – the “new wisdom” is to stretch only after you have warmed up your muscles by doing your endurance or strengthening exercises first!
- Do ensure that your muscles are warmed up before stretching.
- Do breathe deeply all the way through each stretch.
- Do hold each stretch for a minimum of 20-30 seconds.
- Do stretch both your upper body and your lower body.
- Do avoid pain – it’s OK to feel mild discomfort or pulling, but stretching should never cause pain, especially joint pain.
- Don’t hold your breath during a stretch.
- Don’t try to stretch cold muscles – it’s a recipe for injury.
- Don’t “bounce” or rock while holding a stretch.
- Don’t lock your joints.
If you are just beginning a stretching program, or especially if you have had an injury, it is important that you learn to stretch correctly. Be sure to talk to a physical therapist to learn which stretching techniques are the best for you.