Get the best results from your stretching routine

Stretching and other forms of flexibility training are key to a well-rounded regimen
As a runner, you probably have a regular set of pre- or (more importantly) post-running stretches. Which is good — although technique is just as important as the stretches themselves.

Here are a few guidelines to get the most out of your stretching routine.

To get the best results from your stretching, move slowly into each position until you feel a mild tension.

Then stop. Hold the stretch right there and concentrate on how it feels. You should be able to say, "I feel it, but it doesn't hurt."

Relaxation is a crucial part of stretching. Concentrate on letting your face, jaw, shoulders, fingers and feet relax before and during each stretch.

Don't hold your breath. Breathe slowly and rhythmically. As with your running, the more you relax while stretching, the more effectively you'll stretch.

After about five to 15 seconds, the tightness in the stretch should start to subside somewhat as the muscles relax. If this doesn't happen, you're doing something wrong and should back off to a milder stretch. If you feel increased tightness or the onset of pain, stop stretching immediately.

When you stretch too far, you set off a response known as the stretch reflex. The body, in an effort to protect itself from injury, contract the very muscle tissues you are trying to stretch. This is painful, defeats the purpose of the stretch and can actually have a tightening effect on your muscles.

After doing an easy stretch, you can move a little farther into the stretch (typically only a fraction of an inch) until you feel the mild tension again. Then hold this new position for 10 to 20 seconds. This developmental stretch will increase your flexibility and further reduce muscle tension.

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