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Get the Most out of Stretching

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The different styles of martial arts out there are so vast that it’s sometimes hard to keep track. All of these require different techniques, skills, and athleticism from practitioners. But there’s one thing that remains consistent throughout all of them: The need to be flexible.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighters must stay flexible in order to pull off that triangle choke. Kickboxers must be limber enough to deliver that high kick. Which leads to the inevitable question: what’s the secret to flexibility?

Forthcoming are six important things to consider when trying to get the most out of stretching.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Four to six sessions per week

Here's How:

  1. Warm Up First

    Most people believe that the best time to stretch is right before your workout. After all, that’s how they did it at football practice! Here’s the reality, though: the best time to stretch is after a light warm up. When the muscles are cold, injuries can occur. Besides, after a light warm up or workout—think jumping jacks here— the stretch you’ll be able to accomplish will be far better than when the blood hasn’t really started flowing.

  2. Breathe Properly

    Proper breathing is important in any physical activity, and flexibility training is no different. While stretching it’s important to breathe slowly in through the nose, hold it for a moment, and then exhale (usually through the mouth) in order to get the most out of stretching. Proper breathing helps to relax the body, increase blood flow, and even serves to remove some lactic acid build up after workouts.

    During most forms of stretching, practitioners should hold the stretch until they exhale, at which point they may increase or make the stretch more strenuous, if appropriate.

  3. Stretch Consistently and Regularly

    As with anything else in this world, in order to see improvements you need to be consistent. Stretching is something that you should do four to six days per week. That said, each day shouldn’t encompass a rigorous flexibility routine: doing so could cause injury. Still, make sure that your rigorous flexibility routines fall on the same day(s) every week.

    Also make sure that you’re pretty consistent with the stretches you engage in. Generally, each stretch should last at least 20 seconds in duration.

  4. Increase Strength and Flexibility Together

    When increasing flexibility it’s always a good idea to increase strength in the area being discussed. For example, if you’re attempting to increase the flexibility of your legs, make sure that you’re also doing something to increase strength there.

  5. Consider Mixing Stretching Within a Workout

    As was noted earlier, stretching before warming up isn’t a great idea. You’ll get a better stretch if it’s done after the muscles are warm. While training in martial arts, consider stretching within your workout for the best results. Also, don’t be afraid to try static stretching after a workout in order to relax.

  6. Stretching Cautions
    • Always check with your doctor before attempting any flexibility or training routine.
    • Stretching may cause a mild sensation or burning in muscles. It should not cause outright pain in your joints or muscles. If it does, stop and see a doctor.
    • Always stay hydrated when working out or stretching.
    • Depending on the type of stretch, you may be tightening your muscles during flexibility routines. Do not bounce, however.
    • Never begin stretching right after you wake up. You’re not warmed up enough yet.

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