Slow, sustained stretching like the poses involved in Hatha yoga strengthen your muscles, ligaments and tendons. Some stretches isometrically tone your muscles; and all slow stretches are designed to lengthen your muscles which can improve flexibility, allow greater freedom of movement and improve posture.
Slow-sustained stretching is better known as static stretching. When you do a static stretch, you hold a muscle in a lengthened position for an extended period of time. Static stretches are best performed after a cardio workout when your muscles are already warmed up. Dynamic stretches should be performed before sports and exercise sessions to get your body acclimated to movement pattern. These stretches move your body through a full range of motion.
Best Time to Stretch
Static stretches are best performed post-workout. You should hold each stretch for a minimum of 10 seconds for the best effect. The overall goal with this stretching method is to keep the muscles elongated and soreness to a minimum, which speeds up your recovery between workouts and prevents the muscle tightness that may inhibit full range of motion in subsequent workouts. Not being able to move through a full range of motion increases your risk for muscle strains and other connective tissue injuries.
Form with Stretches
Stretching requires good form, just like lifting weights. If you do not stretch a muscle far enough, it will adapt to its shortened length and you may develop an imbalance. Take a basic standing quadriceps stretch for example. By not pulling your foot up toward your buttocks far enough, you will not fully lengthen the muscle. During all stretches, maintain proper body alignment and balance. In the case of the standing quadriceps stretch, lightly place one hand on a secure object like a table or wall to maintain an upright torso and to remain stable. Ease into your stretches slowly and never try to go beyond your limits. Once you feel a slight bit of discomfort in a muscle, you've gone far enough. When you are done holding a stretch, release it slowly.
Yoga is a form of mind-body exercise that requires you to hold your body in various positions, or asanas, for an extended period of time. Yoga poses are basically slow-sustained stretches. Pranayama is a word used to describe conscious breathing. Hatha yoga blends asanas with pranayama to develop mental awareness while increasing flexibility.
In an eight-week study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise, subjects doing Hatha yoga not only made significant gains in flexibility, but they also gained more balance, endurance and muscular strength. The key element noted for improved flexibility was the length of time the asana was held. Study researcher Dawn Boehde recommends holding each asana for at least 30 seconds.