Do you have a stretching routine? What does it consist of? Do you hold your stretches or do you move with your stretches? Do you breathe when you stretch, or do you hold your breath? If you don't know, here are a few things to know when you stretch:
Always remember to breathe! Ideally, you’re taking full and relaxed breaths. Julie Wiebe has a great video on how to take “Umbrella Breaths” on YouTube. You want your diaphragm to be able to fully expand and contract. As a result, your rib cage should expand, not only to the front, but also to the sides and through your back, like an umbrella. If, at any point, you feel dizzy or light-headed, you’re trying too hard! Stop, if necessary, sit or lay down, return to your normal breathing until you feel back to normal.
You want a light to a moderate stretch. If the stretch is too intense, the muscle will stay tense and you won’t get the affect that you are looking for. By taking full and relaxed breaths, with a light to moderate stretch, you should find that the muscle relaxes, and you are able to gain more range of motion (ROM). Stretches should NEVER be painful! You should never have joint pain with stretching. You shouldn't have shooting, burning, or stabbing pain, and no numbness or tingling. If you do, come out of the stretch with control, if it continues please talk to your personal trainer or physical therapist.
Static stretching is when you hold a stretch for an extended period of time. Super important that if you are doing static stretching, that you move in and out of the stretch with control! If you move to fast there is a chance that your muscle will contract quickly to protect and 1. it's extremely uncomfortable 2. you may feel like you have a charlie horse for a day or two 3. You defeated the purpose of stretching.
Dynamic stretching is moving in and out of a stretch with control. One option- Inhale-move into the stretch, exhale-gently release the stretch. Another option- Hold the stretch for 5-10 breaths and release the stretch.
When to Stretch
Before or after a workout, you might do some dynamic stretching if you have limited ROM. By increasing restricted ROM, you can reduce the risk of injury. Having said that, that means increasing within your normal range.
Yin yoga and more static stretches can be nice to calm the body down before bed. Static or gentle dynamic stretches can be a nice way to wake the body up in the morning too, provided, you are finding your light to medium stretch.
Mobility and Flexibility
Mobility is your joints ROM where as flexibility is your muscles ability to lengthen.
Every body is different, even hips and shoulder are different from right to left. Not all body’s were made to move the same and that is OK!!! There is always a modification for your body structure type.
While your stretching, try to maintain your neutral position as much as possible, it will help you get the most out of your stretch. Feel free to play with your stretches a bit to see if you can find a better stretch, while maintaining your neutral posture, if you are having to contort your body in an unnatural way, it's probably not right. The goal is not to look a certain way but to feel what is meant to be stretched.
Everything is Connected
You need to address your body as a whole, opposed to segmenting it. If "all of the sudden" one day your hip hurts, it's probably because something else has become overused or underused and has now, started compensating.
Always stretch both sides of your body! Even when you don’t think the other side is tight. It might not be but I guarantee, if you don’t check it, eventually it will be and if had you been checking on it regularly, it wouldn’t be as tight or restricted as it is now.
If you make stretching part of your daily routine, your body will thank you! Ideally, 5-7 days a week is great! Pick 4-5 stretches a day, change you stretches everyday and you're good to go. If you don't know which stretches to do you can check out resources like "1,500 Stretches" by Hollis Lance Liebman.
Eating nutrient dense foods goes a long way to helping your whole body, including your muscle tissue be in optimal condition. Hydration is also extremely important for your body to function properly and for you tissues to receive the fuel it needs to perform and stay healthy.
There are many variations to every stretch and every exercise, find what works for you. It's always a good idea to try different stretches because the stretch can be significantly different, from standing, to sitting, to lying down. Micro-movements can make all the difference, so check in with your body, are your hips in line, is your back neutral, are you hinging at the joint? Check in with yourself and notice, what am I feeling? Is this what I am trying to feel? When in doubt talk to your personal trainer, physical therapist, or another trusted exercise professional.