- Know your sport.
Whether you're in the gym, on the track, or anywhere else, it's important to know what your workout will involve. Understanding which muscles will be worked is the only way to know how to best stretch out.
- Focus on those muscles.
While a good overall routine is helpful, your emphasis should be on the muscles that will be most heavily involved in your workout.
- Warm up before stretching.
Just some easy walking or a light jog will be sufficient to warm up your muscles, but it will make the stretching session much more valuable.
- Begin slowly.
You don't need to touch your toes right away: Begin slowly and push yourself as your muscles loosen up. Stretching too much, too soon can be painful and potentially harmful.
- Hold the stretch.
Once you feel your muscles reaching their limit, hold the position for a count of 10. Then push yourself a little further and hold again for a count of 10.
- Don't rush your stretching routine.
If you're going to have to cut your workout short, don't skip or shorten the stretching. This is more important than an extra set of reps or another half mile.
- Do it again.
Once you're finished working out, stretch again. Not only is it an excellent way to cool down from your workout, but this is the time that you will improve your flexibility the most.
- Don't bounce!
You will get the best stretch, and prevent injuries if you avoid bouncing. Instead, hold the stretch, and feel a constant pull in the muscles.
- Stretch both sides.
Many people have a tendency to under-stretch the 'healthy' side after an injury. Use the same stretches, for the same amount of time, for both sides of your body.
- Get professional help.
Gym trainers, physical therapists, exercise instructors will all know great ways to stretch. When you're getting started, have someone knowledgeable watch your routine and offer their suggestions.
Williford, HN, et al. "Evaluation of warm-up for improvement in flexibility" Am. J. Sports Med., Jul 1986; 14: 316 - 319.