Whether you are an elite athlete or wake up feeling tightness in your body, stretching regularly has been found to be helpful for people of all ages; improving flexibility, preventing injury, enhancing circulation and coordination, improving posture and decreasing stress. Learning basic stretches are important to know, but of equal importance are fundamentals on how to stretch. Even the most experienced stretchers can benefit from the five tips listed below on how to get into the perfect stretch.
1. Warm Up to Stretch
Warming up properly increases the body's temperature and allows the muscles to stretch more effectively while preventing muscles from tearing or straining. Take between five to eight minutes to do a brisk walk, slow jog, light running in place, or even an aerobic dance to achieve a one to two degree increase in body temperature and an even distribution of blood in the body’s tissues to allow proper stretching.
2. Count Breaths, Not Seconds
Count between five to ten slow, conscious breaths when holding each stretch. Breathing into the body as deep as possible , then releasing the breath to a full exhale as you stretch will oxygenate the body and keep the mind more focused on relaxing, producing a deeper stretch.
3. Work With, Not Against the Muscle
The mindset when stretching directly affects the reflexes in the muscles, allowing or preventing muscles from attaining a full stretch. If you forcibly put your muscles into a stretch, you not only risk injury, but you limit the full length of stretch the muscle can achieve. To achieve a much deeper stretch, look at stretching as healing and enjoyable and stretch as far as is comfortable, then back off, and explore some more.
4. Flex In-Between Sets
Following full contraction of a muscle is a greater state of relaxation. This concept is put into practice by psychologists through a technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation for people suffering from anxiety disorders. It can also be utilized to help create a deeper stretch by flexing the muscle through its full range of motion in between stretches.
5. Get Hot
Really heat up your body to explore its deepest stretching potential by stretching in a dry sauna. After a general warm up, go into the sauna and sit, waiting to stretch until you begin sweating. Be sure to stretch extra slow and replenish with lots of water to prevent dehydration. The increased sweating in the sauna detoxifies the body and is especially beneficial for overall health.
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