9 Guidelines for Stretching a Healthy, Uninjured Muscle:
1. Begin your stretch by creating an intensity that borders on pain without causing muscle contraction. Hold this position until the intensity diminishes. I like to use the visualization of “feeling the tension dissipate, a sort of melting sensation”. This sensation is the “release” you may have heard about.
2. To make significant gains in flexibility you should experience this release at least three times consecutively in the same pose, recreating the intensity after each release. Each hold-release cycle is referred to as a “phase”; the total duration the pose is held is referred to as a “cycle”.
3. The initial release should occur between 15 and 60 seconds after you begin a stretch.
4. The stiffer and less experienced you are, or the more intensely you apply the stretch, the longer this initial release will take to occur.
5. You should hold a pose for:
- 30 to 60 seconds as part of a warm up.
- 30 seconds as a muscle flush or cool down.
- 2 to 5 minutes to make permanent changes in muscle length or to gain meditative results. The longer you hold, the deeper the tissues you will effect and the more release you will experience.
6. If paired muscles on opposite sides of the body, such as the hamstrings (backs of the thighs), are unequally tight you should maintain the position for an extra phase or two on the taut side. In extreme cases apply the pose twice on the taut side for each cycle on the more limber side.
7. Body position must be purposeful, body segments should generally be held in fixed positions without rounding or contorting to assume a pose.
8. Dedicate most of the duration of a stretch cycle to applying a constant force to the end limit of your range of motion. A gentle rocking or pulsing may be helpful in facilitating a release. However, excessive bouncing (better known as “ballistic stretching”) is recommended only for highly trained ballistic athletes – that is, athletes who perform quick movements such as kicking, jumping, striking and the like, with high force and where this type of movement is specific to their sport. Even in such cases it should be used only sparingly and under the supervision of an experienced coach, as it can set the athlete up for injury.
9. Remember to “think through the muscle”. Apply all your mental effort to paying attention to your muscle, being aware of what is happening to it, and relaxing into the stretch. Be there, in your body, concerned only with the task of the moment, not focused outside on getting back to work or what you will have for dinner.