Whenever you stretch, the following rules apply and should always be followed in order to prevent injury.
1. Always warm up your muscles for at least five minutes prior to stretching. Good warm-ups include jogging in place, slow biking and jumping jacks.
2. Never bounce or bob during stretches. Not only is this less effective than simply "holding" the stretch, but it can also be very dangerous and lead to injuries.
3. Always perform each stretching exercise in a slow, controlled manner. Exhale as you begin the stretch and then relax and breathe normally throughout the stretch.
4. Never stretch torn or injured muscles unless instructed to do otherwise by a health care provider.
5. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
6. Stretches should feel slightly uncomfortable, so as to "feel the stretch" in the muscles, not the joints. There should be no acute pain.
7. If time permits, pause after each individual stretch and then repeat one or two more times.
8. Always complete each stretch for both sides of your body or limb in the same way.
9. Never force flexibility. Whatever your starting point, begin slowly and advance at a gradual yet progressive pace.
Proper breathing control is important for a successful stretch.
Proper breathing helps to relax the body, increases blood flow throughout the body, and helps to mechanically remove lactic acid and other by-products of exercise.
You should be taking slow, relaxed breaths when you stretch, trying to exhale as the muscle is stretching. Some even recommend increasing the intensity of the stretch only while exhaling, holding the stretch in its current position at all other times (this doesn't apply to isometric stretching).
The proper way to breathe is to inhale slowly through the nose, expanding the abdomen (not the chest); hold the breath a moment; then exhale slowly through the nose or mouth. Inhaling through the nose has several purposes including cleaning the air and insuring proper temperature and humidity for oxygen transfer into the lungs. The breath should be natural and the diaphragm and abdomen should remain soft. There should be no force of the breath. Some experts seem to prefer exhaling through the nose (as opposed to through the mouth) saying that exhaling through the mouth causes depression on the heart and that problems will ensue over the long term.
The rate of breathing should be controlled through the use of the glottis in the back of the throat. This produces a very soft "hm-m-m-mn" sound inside the throat as opposed to a sniffing sound in the nasal sinuses. The exhalation should be controlled in a similar manner, but if you are exhaling through the mouth, it should be with more of an "ah-h-h-h-h" sound, like a sigh of relief.
As you breathe in, the diaphragm presses downward on the internal organs and their associated blood vessels, squeezing the blood out of them. As you exhale, the abdomen, its organs and muscles, and their blood vessels flood with new blood. This rhythmic contraction and expansion of the abdominal blood vessels is partially responsible for the circulation of blood in the body. Also, the rhythmic pumping action helps to remove waste products from the muscles in the torso. This pumping action is referred to as the respiratory pump. The respiratory pump is important during stretching because increased blood flow to the stretched muscles improves their elasticity, and increases the rate at which lactic acid is released out of the muscles.
There are advantages to participating in a regular stretching program. It is highly believed by experts and athletes stretching can improve not only sports performance, but also general health, well-being, body posture and aesthetics.
While it may be true that there are many highly successful sports performers who do not engage in a regular stretching program, such athletes are the exception rather than the rule. Stretching offers several advantages. Initially, as part of the warm-up process, when one is preparing the body for the more strenuous work to follow, a period of preparatory stretches will ensure all muscles, joints and limbs have been carefully taken throughout their full range of movement. This reduces the risk of injuring muscles, joints and ligaments.
If correctly done, stretching also leads to an increase in normal range of movement. This leads to better flexibility. This is a benefit to the athlete in that the greater the range of movement a person has throughout the joints, the greater the amount or force that can be applied to the ground, water or objects used during a sport. Consider the runner who wants to increase speed. Running speed is determined by how quickly the legs move and how much ground is covered with each stride. The longer the force is applied and the more it is exerted, the better the performance.
Stretching aimed at flexibility gains can help athletes correct certain deficiencies in technique. For example, excessively tight hamstring muscles may limit how effectively legs move through the range of movements required for sprinting or running activities. Performing appropriate stretching exercises can improve execution of the necessary movements which will improve sprinting or running technique. Deficiencies may also predispose a sports performer or enthusiast to injury, which may create an even stronger motivation toward including a thorough and balanced stretching regime in a sports program.
Although there is no scientific evidence to support it, many athletes argue a proper warm-up including light stretching prior to vigorous activity, and a thorough cooldown including longer held static stretching can reduce some of the muscle soreness that results from a syndrome known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is the stiffness brought about through vigorous or unaccustomed exercise or strenuous physical activity, and can be acute. It will usually show up between 24 and 48 hours after exercise.
Even if you don't consider yourself an athlete or serious sports performer, it still makes good sense to structure an exercise session that contains a thorough and progressive stretching program to increase your range of movement