Whenever you stretch, remember the objectives of stretching, which are to improve flexibility, strengthen and lengthen your muscles so they can perform optimally, prevent injuries, and enhance circulation. When you integrate stretching into your overall workout routine, you'll be amazed by how much better you'll feel all over.
How to Stretch Properly
Have you ever seen someone go about stretching haphazardly? He throws his foot onto a fence post or railing, awkwardly bends toward it, bounces a few times, tries to grab his foot a couple of times, then heaves his foot back down and starts with the other one. Common sense says there's something wrong with this all-too-common sight, and indeed there is.
To be effective, stretching needs to be slow, gentle, and focused. Concentrate on the muscles or muscle groups you're working on and breathe naturally and regularly (no holding your breath). Inhale as you set up the stretch, then exhale as you lean into the stretch, moving slowly and lightly to extend the muscle to its greatest point of extension. Stop when you feel mild tension and hold the stretch for 30–60 seconds. At the end of that time, inhale out of the stretch as gently as you went into it.
Patience Is a Virtue
Even if you currently have poor flexibility, a regular stretching program will greatly improve your range of motion. The key is to be both patient and consistent. Your stretching should not cause pain, although it may feel a bit awkward or even uncomfortable at first when extending a muscle to the far end of its present range of motion.
You can also supplement your stretching with exercises that strengthen your muscles to further support your joints and skeleton. For example, strengthening your abdominals by doing crunches and sit-ups correctly and building up your arms and shoulders using free weights or machines such as Nautilus or Cybex are ways you can benefit your overall health and improve your running.
Static stretch basics include:
Stretch the muscle to the point of its greatest range of motion, but don't overextend.
Never bounce when stretching; rather, hold the stretch for 30–60 seconds.
Stretch all the major leg muscle groups.
Stretch uniformly (after stretching one leg, stretch the other).
Don't overstretch an injured area, for this may cause additional damage.