Stretching feels good when you have tight muscles because it increases blood flow, but it's also important for flexibility, range of motion and reduced risk of a muscle strain.
When should you stretch?
Starting when we joined our first soccer team at the age of six, most of us have been told to stretch before exercising, whether that be jogging, sprinting, playing basketball or dancing. But the research on static stretching before exercise is mixed on whether it is beneficial, detrimental or has no effect on one's athletic performance. The vague conclusion is that stretches held for 30 seconds or less are fine for anyone to do before exercising, and the only people who definitely must stretch are those that will be holding a position for long periods of time in order to avoid pulling a muscle, such as gymnasts, hockey goalies and dancers.
But, you can stretch at any time, since its main purpose is to improve your flexibility and range of motion to do movements you couldn't perform otherwise. For example, if you feel stiff when you bend down to tie your shoelaces, you might want to stretch your legs every morning to get rid of this stiffness that makes shoe-tying uncomfortable.
Stretch every morning or night as part of your daily routine. Stretching after a workout is also good because your muscles are warmed up and this will have a greater effect on your flexibility.
How to stretch?
You can find several easy stretches online. You probably have a nice repertoire from your team-sport playing days, but online videos are abundant that show you how to do stretches to target particularly tight muscles.
Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds, and do up to four repetitions. Hold your position steadily – don't bounce, which can cause small tears and leave scar tissue, making your muscles even more tight! To avoid bouncing, stretch only to the point of tension and hold it there – don't let yourself feel pain. A good stretching routine will probably last between 15 and 20 minutes.
When can you stop stretching?
Make stretching a daily habit to improve your flexibility. As time goes on, you can spend fewer minutes stretching because you'll start to see the flexibility and range of motion results you want. Stopping altogether could make your muscles tight again, and stretching is good for the body, so keep it up every day if you can!