Would you stretch more often if it didn’t result in pain and discomfort? When I see clients for personal training in Santa Monica, many of them (especially men!) report that they avoid stretching because it just doesn’t feel good. But stretching can make you look and feel better, and help prevent injury, so it’s an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Use these guidelines to make stretching a pain-free and positive part of your workout.
1. Don’t Stretch Through Pain. Pain is a signal from your body’s internal defense system, telling you that you’re at risk for injury. Ignoring those signals can potentially create small microtraumas in the muscle, tendons, or ligaments. You should stretch only before reaching your pain threshold to achieve greater flexibility without trauma. Over time, you’ll find yourself able to get into deeper stretches without pain, and gain long-lasting flexibility.
2. Warm Up First. Before stretching, start with a low intensity warm-up like walking or cycling for ten minutes. How do you know you’re doing it right? You should feel a noticeable increase in body temperature and break a light sweat.
3. Roll It Out. After you’ve warmed up, spend a few minutes using a foam roller to desensitize and relax your “trigger points” — the spots along your muscles that feel painful or uncomfortable when they make contact with the foam roller.
When learning how to stretch, it’s also important to have basic knowledge about the muscles you are stretching and how to position the body to create the desired effect. I’m not going to show you specific stretches today, though you’ll find plenty of video instruction for stretching different body parts on our YouTube channel. Below are basic guidelines to follow with all stretches to make your movements more comfortable and get better results:
Breathe: When you meet resistance in the muscles, make a conscious effort to breathe through the tension. Holding your breath is a natural “fight or flight” tendency when your body faced with a high level of discomfort or stress. But holding the breath creates unnecessary added tension and bring you closer to the threshold of pain. When you take a long, deep breath, your body will respond more favorably to the stretch and achieve more flexibility.
Smooth Flow: Ease in and out of the stretch slowly to decrease the likelihood of setting off the alarms, which creates a muscle-shortening reflex and negates potential improvements.
Short and Sweet: When stretching before an activity, focus on stretching only to align the body by lengthening any specific trouble areas that are chronically short and tight. Only hold those stretches for about two seconds for 5-10 repetitions, to prevent the myotatic reflex, which will inhibit that muscle for any subsequent activities.
End With a Stretch: The best time to stretch is after physical activity or at the end of the day. Physical activity creates repetitive muscular contractions that leave your muscles in a shortened state, and they’ll stay that way until you stretch them.
Take 10-15 minutes for yourself every day to stretch, creating space for a healthy new habit.