If you didn't think you had enough options for your workout routines, you also have options for your stretching exercises. Some stretches are slow and sustained, while others are quick and use movement. A slow-sustained stretch is great when you want to relax, lengthen the muscles and reduce your muscle soreness. You can find a quiet space to stretch, then return to your daily life feeling refreshed and standing taller.
Stretching is an important component of your workout routine. Not only does it improve your flexibility, but you'll also feel a reduction in muscle soreness and injury risk and an increase in joint range of motion and posture. Your stretching routine may be the quickest part of your workout, as it only takes a few minutes on each muscle, but the benefits are long lasting.
A slow-sustained stretch is known as a static stretch. You don't move after you get into the stretch position. Static stretches are the most common type of stretch and ones you can perform on your own. You gently move into the stretch and then breathe normally as you maintain the stretch for a minimum of 15 to 30 seconds. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends doing each stretch two to four times.
When you stretch a muscle quickly, the muscle experiences a stretch-reflex. Instead of relaxing and lengthening, the muscle shortens to protect itself from over-stretching. Some stretches are movement based and serve as warm-up exercises, but static stretching is different. A slow-sustained stretch eliminates the stretch-reflex so the muscle lengthens and relaxes. This is where the flexibility gains are made.
A warm muscle stretches better than a cold muscle, so always warm your body before you stretch. Spend five to 10 minutes doing full-body movements such as walking, stair climbing and dancing. Even better, do your stretches at the end of your cardiovascular workout. You can stretch on a daily basis and should aim to stretch all of your large muscle groups including your chest, back, shoulders, arms, core and legs.
A mother of two and passionate fitness presenter, Lisa M. Wolfe had her first fitness article published in 2001. She is the author of six fitness books and holds an Associate of Arts in exercise science from Oakland Community College. When not writing, Wolfe is hula-hooping, kayaking, walking or cycling.