Most of us avoid stretching whenever possible: it’s painful, takes a long time, and doesn’t yield the visible results that cardio or strength training do. At least, that’s the bad rap stretching has acquired.
But stretching doesn’t have to be such a burden. In fact, finding the stretches that work for you, and the best time to do them, will help you move more easily, may reduce risk of injury, and let you take your workout routine to the next level.
Start taking stretching seriously with these 5 simple tricks:
The best way to push through those particularly difficult stretches is to focus on your breathing instead of the discomfort. Once you’re in a tough pose, pay conscious attention to taking long, steady inhales, and equally long exhales. (Remember: some tightness and discomfort is normal when stretching, but avoid pushing your body into positions that cause sharp or very intense pain.)
- Make a stretch schedule
If you know you’re going to be exhausted at the end of your workout, you can save your stretching routine for later. Try moving through some gentle poses before bed: they’ll help you relax and improve your quality of sleep. Or try doing one stretch every hour, on the hour, throughout the day to ensure you get up from your desk and loosen up those sore spots.
- Try a foam roller
For particularly tight muscles, start with a roller: a log made out of foam that you can find in the stretching areas of your YMCA. Rolling your muscles improves their circulation and helps loosen the knots that keep you feeling tight, making a rolling session the perfect warm-up for some deeper stretching. Try rolling over sore spots slowly, and even stopping altogether to hold the roller on especially tight, tender areas.
- Make a stretch buddy
During solo stretch sessions, your undivided attention will be on discomfort. Chatting with a friend will help take your mind off uncomfortable stretches, and guarantee that you keep breathing. Bring a friend or partner with you the next time you hit the gym, or make a new acquaintance in a group fitness class.
- Get expert guidance
If you don’t know what stretches you should be doing, or if you’re so tight stretching is painful, get some help from an expert. Drop in to a flexibility-promoting group fitness class like yoga, where a certified fitness expert can help perfect your form and ensure you’re stretching within safe limits. Or make an appointment with a personal trainer to get a stretch routine tailored to your individual needs.
By making stretching work for you, you’ll get to enjoy all the perks of increased flexibility, like reduced tension. And without that discomfort in your way, you’ll be able to push yourself that much harder during your next workouts.