Touch your toes. Reach for the sky. You were probably taught those stretches as a child, and perhaps continue to practice them today. They are examples of static stretching.
Static stretches are beneficial so long as they’re held for the proper amount of time – at least 30 seconds – but experts agree there’s a lot more you should be doing. To ensure you fully experience the benefits of stretching, give these five things a shot.
Focus on dynamic stretches
To reap the benefits of stretching, practice dynamic movements. Dynamic stretches puts muscles in motion. Meaning, they look more like actual exercises…think walking lunges, leg swings, or torso twists. They’re preparing your muscles gradually to do the job you’re about to task it with.
Incorporate foam rolling into your routine
Foam rolling is a technique that helps tight muscles relax, relieves muscle soreness, and reduces muscle inflammation. It can also help improve your range of motion. In short, you’ll move better. Foam rollers are easy to find, but you’ll want to spend some time with a fitness professional to make sure the benefits of stretching with a foam roller are maximized. Classes that focus exclusively on foam rolling are a growing trend – and with good reason!
Listen to your body
Stretching should never be painful. When performing static stretches, practice mindfulness. Always stop when you feel tension and breathe deeply. Then try moving further into your stretch in the following round.
Don’t think of stretching as a warm up or cool down activity only
If you’re new to exercise, a stretching session is a great way to get your feet wet. It’s an equally awesome focus for your active recovery days. Experts recommend a 25 minute session, minimum, and suggest complementing individual stretching with assisted stretching. Assisted stretching is especially valuable because it allows you to target muscles you cannot ordinarily reach on your own and provides an even deeper stretch.
Take your future self into consideration
Even if you’re feeling limber now, unfortunately it’s likely that won’t always be the case. As we age, our bodies naturally don’t move as well as they used to. But staying flexible as you get older can help. For example, regularly stretching your quads (the large muscles on top of your thighs) will make sitting down and standing up without assistance easier in your golden years.
Still feeling a tad skeptical? Check out this research on many other benefits of stretching!