When people think about getting in shape, most think of building muscle tone or endurance. However, an important part of your overall fitness is increasing your flexibility. This will help prevent some kinds of injuries and also prevent the uncomfortable feelings of tightness that often plague your body if you consistently work out.
Before you begin to stretch, it is important to create heat in your muscles by warming up. You can do this by running in place, or any other kind of exercise that gets your blood flowing. If possible, also stretch in a warm room. Heat allows the muscles to relax and lengthen.
As you move into your stretch, slow down as you feel the first pull. Breathe in and allow the exhale to bring you deeper into the stretch. Continue focusing on your breath, and see if you can go a little deeper with each exhale. Breathing will help you and your muscles to relax and increase oxygen flow to the muscles.
Focusing on your breath will also help you stay in a stretch longer. If you are looking to increase your flexibility, it is important to stay in the stretch for at least 30 seconds. Short stretches will help you maintain your current flexibility, but longer stretches are what changes the shape of your muscles for a lasting improvement in flexibility. If the stretch becomes too painful during that length of time back out of it slightly and see if that helps. If you still can’t maintain the stretch, come out completely and try again later. Pick a gentler form of the stretch that you can hold for the entire length of time.
As you stretch, it is important to listen to your body. The stretches will probably feel uncomfortable, but if you feel sharp pain, you should back out of the stretch. Forcing your body to go beyond what it is ready to do can actually result in increased muscle tightness, so be gentle with your body. Always move into and out of stretches slowly and let your muscles release in a given position before moving further into a stretch. In addition, make sure not to torque your joints as you stretch, particularly if the joint is weight bearing. If you are concerned that your alignment may not be correct, have a workout partner or a trainer evaluate you.
As you choose your stretches, it is easy to focus on the big muscle groups. It is particularly easy to focus on your legs and forget the rest of your body. However, flexibility is important to your whole body. Especially if you exercise regularly, you need to stretch the muscles that you used during your workouts. As you exercise, your muscles build stronger and tighter. Especially during intense exercise, your muscles also store lactic acid, which can lead to soreness in places and is not good for your body. Stretching helps lengthen your muscles back out after exercise and release the lactic acid. Make sure to drink plenty of water after you stretch to flush the lactic acid out of your system.
Flexibility allows you to broaden the scope of your workouts. More kinds of workouts are available to you, and you feel better in your day to day life if you are able to release the lactic acid stored in your muscles through stretching. Simply follow the advice above and stretch every day, your flexibility will continue to increase daily.