The idea of stretching before or after exercise may seem redundant, but the advantages far outweigh the “inconvenience” of spending that time warming up the muscles and increasing blood flow. Stretching reduces stress, increases flexibility, and should be made a part of everyone’s exercise routine. But, it should be done slowly and safely.
Stretching can be done anywhere at any time.
The trick is to use proper techniques so you do not injure yourself. Begin by moving your whole body; do some walking, light jogging, or biking at a low intensity for a few minutes. Focus on the major muscle groups and go slowly, holding each stretch for about 30 seconds. Stretching should never be painful. You will feel a certain amount of tension in the muscle, but if there is any pain, stop! Hold the stretch just before the point of pain. Never bounce when stretching. Bouncing causes small muscle tears which leave scar tissue as the muscles heal. This, in turn, tighten the muscles further making you even less flexible.
Bring gentle movement into your routine, going slowly and not pushing your body past the point of discomfort. Be cautious when working already strained or injured muscles. Stretching is not a panacea; your muscles may still become injured if overused. But, stretching does help increase circulation and flexibility while increasing range of motion and reducing stress. It will also help alleviate back pain. Flexibility makes you less susceptible to muscle, tendon, and joint injuries as you age. An increased range of motion keeps you moving and active, while improving your balance. Better balance is an important deterrent to dangerous falls. Stretching the muscles of the quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back muscles and hip flexors, all of which contribute to your posture, greatly reduce or eliminate lower back pain.
Consistency should be your mantra!
If you don’t stretch regularly, you risk losing the benefits that stretching provides. If stretching helped you with flexibility and you stop stretching, your flexibility will suffer. Keep it gentle and consistent.