By Kim Duke

NETA & AAFA Certified Trainer

There is a part of a fitness regime that often gets overlooked— stretching.

Believe it or not— stretching is actually pretty controversial in the fitness industry.  Some studies have shown that stretching before you begin a workout can be counterproductive and even dangerous.  “Before a workout, a cold muscle is like a frozen elastic band, so if you stretch it, it may feel like it’s going to snap,” explains certified personal trainer Sarah Robichaud.  The key to reaping the benefits of stretching is to do it safely.  Here’s what you need to know about stretching the right way and the right time.

Rule No. 1:  Don’t stretch a cold muscle. If you want to stretch before a workout (which you do not have to do—the post-workout stretch is the important one) warm up first for about five minutes before performing your first stretch.  Jog in place, march or do jumping jacks.Then lightly stretch the major muscle groups: the quads, hamstrings, back, chest and sides.  (Lightly means holding each stretch for 20-30 second.)

Rule No. 2:  Stay warm. One of the main reasons working out before a stretching session is so important is because warm muscles are flexible muscles.

Rule No. 3: Don’t rush. In order to change your flexibility and change it for good, you have to sit in uncomfortable positions for minutes on end.  To maximize your flexibility gains, hold your post-workout stretches for one to two minutes.

Rule No. 4: Push yourself. Push yourself using deep breaths, but never to the point of pain or injury.  When you are performing an effective stretch, you’re going to feel it, and it’s not always going to feel pleasant.  Just remember to listen to your body as you stretch.

Rule No. 5:  Breathe. During the 5-15 minutes that you can spend in a post-workout stretching session, remember to breathe deeply and consciously.  This will replenish oxygen, increase effectiveness of your flexibility training, and contribute to a level of relaxation and mindfulness that is probably missing from your workouts.

Rule No. 6: Do not bounce. Although some dynamic movement may be required for certain stretches, bouncing into and out of stretches can cause injury and should be avoided.

Following these six rules will greatly impact your flexibility, recovery and all over well being.