Stretches are essential to any workout to help you cool down, prevent the build up of lactic acid in your muscles, and to keep your muscles long and flexible as they grow stronger. There are three different factors that can make a stretch more or less effective. Here they are explained.
1. A Good Stretch Requires Good Leverage
In order to stretch effectively, you should have complete control over the intensity of the stretch, and the speed at which you progress into the stretch. That way, you can stretch to your furthest limit without injuring yourself by moving too fast into the stretch. Leverage also allows you to move further into the stretch over time to gain additional flexibility.
Here are some of the benefits of good leverage in a stretch:
- Good leverage helps you get a better stretch even out of stiff muscles.
- Good leverage keeps you from hurting yourself in a stretch, since it gives you total control over the stretch.
- Good leverage makes stretches easier.
- Good leverage makes stretches more effective.
2. Good Stretches Isolate Muscles and Muscle Groups
The best stretches isolate a particular muscle or a muscle group. An effective stretch reaches only the muscles you're trying to stretch, without reaching any other muscles or muscle groups. Here are some of the benefits of isolating muscle groups with effective stretches:
- Isolation guarantees that you'll only have to overcome the resistance offered by a single muscle or muscle group. It's more difficult to overcome resistance offered by more than one muscle or muscle group.
- Isolating a muscle or muscle group gives you greater leverage, or control over the stretch. This means you're less likely to hurt yourself, and it will be easier to gain flexibility over time as you'll be able to move deeper into that stretch the more often you practice it.
- Isolation allows you to very the intensity of the stretch, even on different sides of your body. One arm or leg may require a more intense stretch than the other, as many people experience increased muscle strength and tone on one side of the body (usually the dominant side; for instance, right handed people may have more strength in the right arm than the left).
3. Good Stretches Aren't Dangerous
A good stretch doesn't put you at increased risk of injury while you're performing it. While some stretches can be quite effective, you should always consider whether or not those stretches are safe. Some stretches may have great potential for isolation and leverage, but if they are unsafe, you shouldn't perform them.
Your workouts may be severely inhibited, or even stopped, if you injure yourself, and some injuries may require lengthy recovery times or may continue to bother you intermittently throughout life. Take every possible step to avoid injury and perform only safe stretches. Some tips for stretching safely are:
- Avoid any stretch that puts pressure on joints or causes pain in the joints.
- Always keep your spine straight when twisting, bending or turning, to avoid disk injury.
- Keep your body securely supported during stretching; never perform a stretch that puts you off balance.