Stretching should be included in everyone’s fitness routine in order to achieve optimal fitness performance. Stretching is often underutilized by many but is a vital fitness activity that if done correctly can speed up wanted results. Stretching is more than just holding a stretch for a few seconds; here are 4 proper stretching tips to improve your fitness performance.

1. Stretch Statically
Holding a stretched pose is referred to as static stretching. In other words, static stretching is stretching without movement across the joints being stretched. Almost every muscle in the body crosses over at least one joint, so it’s important to keep that joint still during a static stretch in order to obtain a long deep stretch. It’s important to hold a stretch for a minimum of 25-30 seconds and stretch each side at least three times. You can alternate between sides or stretch for 25-30 seconds, take a 10 second rest, then stretch the same muscle again.

2. Stretch Dynamically
Dynamic stretching is basically the opposite of static stretching and includes movement during the stretching process. This type of stretching is usually done as a warm-up to an upcoming activity such as weight training or sports. Dynamic stretching briefly stretches the muscle through movement and at multiple points of the muscles range of motion. Dynamic stretching should mimic the movement patterns that will be performed during the upcoming physical activity thus preparing or “warming-up” the muscles prior to exerting greater force and tension on the muscle during the activity.

3. When and When Not to Stretch
Static stretching should never be done just prior to performing an intense physical activity such as weight lifting or sports. Stretching muscles statically puts the muscle in an elongated position for a longer period of time under tension. Stretching statically prior to intense physical activity can actually compromise the muscle and leave it vulnerable to injury. Static stretching should be done after physical activity to reduce tension in the muscle or before a resting state for optimal recovery.

Dynamic stretching is best to perform prior to a physical activity to promote blood flow to the muscles as well as to provide some light time under tension prior to intense physical activity.

4. Stretch Efficiently
Stretching doesn’t need to be over complicated as much as it needs to be consistent to achieve the best results. Having a daily workout plan can help you minimize what you need to dynamically stretch prior to your workout or sport. If you are working out your lower body on a particular day it’s not necessary to dynamically stretch both your upper and lower body. The same goes for after a workout, it’s not necessary to stretch a body part that you didn’t workout however it won’t hurt if you do. It is however a great idea to do a full body stretch at least a few hours before going to bed. Make sure to definitely stretch your hamstrings, quads, chest, shoulders, and neck muscles for a grand total of about 15 minutes prior to bed. This will ensure optimal recovery and muscle health.

Stretching should be a part of everyone’s fitness routine as it can prevent injuries and promote gains. Be sure to know exactly what you are stretching and how you are stretching the muscle to prevent any setbacks. Also, make sure that you are doing the correct type of stretching at the right times and you’ll soon see how stretching can positively affect your fitness level.