There are many reasons why you might want to increase your flexibility.
Better flexibility can improve your life by making tasks easier with an increased range of motion. It also helps prevent injury to muscles. Improving your flexibility can also improve your circulation! Flexibility gains can help you to improve your fitness level by improving your ability to perform certain exercises to a fuller extent. Everyone knows that stretching is essential for flexibility, but how and when should we stretch to see real gains?
When looking to improve your flexibility, there are a few simple rules to follow with your stretching routine so as to not overstretch or injure yourself, but still, see gains in your range of motion. The first rule pertains to how often to stretch. When stretching for flexibility improvements, you may stretch up to three times per week using the techniques we will be discussing. This is not to say that you may not stretch besides these three times, you just should not stretch in the same way (length of holding the stretches or number of sets, etc.) If you would like to stretch additional times, you should perform dynamic stretches, or hold the stretches for a much shorter period of time, preferably 30 seconds or less.
Now let’s talk about the actual stretching. In each stretch session, you may do each stretch a total of three times (or three times per side/leg if the stretch has multiple sides.) Each time you hold the stretch, you want to hold it for between 45 seconds to a minute. When holding the stretch, make sure you are breathing deeply and relaxing your muscles as much as possible. After the minute is up, you can move on to your next stretch, or the other side of the same stretch. Then you can repeat each stretch a total of three times throughout the session, totaling up to 3 minutes of static stretching per muscle/group.
It is very important to remember to hydrate properly, especially on stretch days. You also must make sure to never stretch cold; always do a 10-minute warm-up prior to stretching for flexibility gains, and try to stretch somewhere warm where your muscles will not get cold too fast during your stretch session. If you stretch muscles that are not properly warmed, not only will you not be able to make the same gains you would be able to if you were warm, you also are at serious risk of injuring yourself. When we stretch cold muscles for prolonged periods of time, such as holding a static stretch for a minute at a time, we are at risk for
stretching out our tendons and ligaments. This can destabilize our joints instead of stretching the body of the muscle, and make us injury-prone over time.