Stretching and Yoga can be a great way to relieve aches and tension in overworked muscles, but on occasion someone will end up doing more damage than good. That is why I have compiled this list of useful pointers that can help make stretching safer and more effective.
This may seem like common sense, but there are so many people out there who hold their breath while stretching. When you hold your breath during a stretch or yoga pose, it is difficult for your muscles to relax and can even result in injury. Taking deep, even breaths will allow you to relax which will take you even deeper into the stretch.
2) Warm up / Pre-stretch
Don’t start off your stretch routine by trying to twist yourself into a pretzel. Start slow and ease your way into the more difficult stretches. Some things you can do for a warm up include walking, calisthenics and light stretching,
3) Wear comfortable clothing
Wear clothes that are comfortable and allow you to move through your full range of motion (gym shorts, yoga pants, tank tops and t-shirts will do). Try to avoid baggy clothes; even though they are comfy, they can get in the way sometimes.
4) Find a quiet place to stretch
It is way too easy to get distracted when stretching, so find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Stretching and yoga is best when you can focus all of your attention towards the stretch and your body.
5) Be aware / Listen to your body
Like I mentioned above, stretching works best when you are focusing your attention on your body and the sensations that arise when stretching. Your body has a way of communicating its likes and dislikes, and with just a little bit of practice you can learn how to listen to it.
An example of this would be a painful sensation felt during a stretch. Pain is the body’s way of saying “Stop doing that, you idiot!”; and when it speaks, it’s best to listen to what it has to say because the body knows what it wants.
6) Don’t force a stretch
Too many people out there injure themselves badly by overstretching. I have been guilty of this in the past, but I learned my lesson quickly. If the stretch is painful, back out of it until the pain diminishes.
7) Ease into it
One way to avoid over stretching is to slowly ease into a stretch until you hit a point of resistance and hold the stretch at that point. Here is where the breathing comes into play. Once you are engaged in the stretch, start to take those deep even breaths, and you will find yourself sinking deeper and deeper into the stretch with every exhale.
8) Stay hydrated…All day, every day
The human body is made up of approximately 70% water, so it only makes sense that we need to drink plenty of water to help us function. Hydration is important for overall health but it also helps keep muscles nice and supple. If you are dehydrated, so are your muscles.
9) Avoid bouncing
Bouncing while you stretch is called ballistic stretching and has been shown to damage muscle tissue by causing microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. These tiny little tears cause local inflammation and discomfort which completely defeats the purpose for stretching in the first place.
10) Consult your physician
If you have any preexisting health conditions it is best to consult with your doctor before starting any stretching regiment or yoga routine. This is to ensure that it will be safe for you to do so.
Whatever your reason for stretching or doing yoga may be, I hope that you find these tips to be useful in developing safe and effective stretching practices.
Article written by:
William Henson lmt/nmt – Owner/Therapist @ Alternative Pain Management Massage Therapy & Bodywork Studio