If you take the time to stretch after your workout, you are already doing better than a lot of people. However, if you aren't holding your stretch long enough, you may be wasting your time.
Stretching is really beneficial to your body, as it can improve your flexibility, reduce your chances of an injury and increase your workout performance. To do this, you need to get into a stretching position and hold it for long enough for your muscles to get the full benefit.
So, how long should you hold your stretch? Probably longer than you do. Muscles are structured in a way to prevent you from getting injured, but unfortunately, they also prevent you from getting much benefit out a stretch that you hold for under 20 seconds.
Additionally, similar to doing several sets of an exercise, it is best to do several rounds of static stretching in order to get the most benefits from it.
Healthy adults should address their muscles at least two days a week by doing a series of exercises to increase flexibility in each of the major muscle-tendon groups. It is best to do each exercise for a full minute. If you want, you can do three rounds of 20 seconds instead of one round of 60 seconds. As long as you spend 60 full seconds on each muscles group.
To get the most benefits from doing this, it is best to do this immediately after you finish working out. It is ideal to do your stretches and work on your range of motion while your muscles are loose and warmed up.
So, what stretches should you be doing? It depends on what your body is telling you to do. You probably want to make sure that you pay attention to your major muscle groups, such as your hips, glutes, calves, quads, and hamstrings. You also want to focus on your upper body by stretching your shoulder girdle, chest, and upper back.
Here are some popular stretches for you to do:
Standing Hamstring Stretch
Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and relax your arms by your sides. Breathe out while you bend forward at your hips and lower your head to the floor. Keep your head, neck, and shoulders loose and relaxed. Wrap your arms around the backs of your legs and hold this stretch for anywhere from one to two minutes. Bend your knees and slowly roll up when you're finished.
Lunge with Spinal Twist
Stand up straight with your feet together. Use your right foot and take a big step forward. Bend your right knee and drop down into a lunge while you keep your left leg straight behind you and your toes on the floor. This will allow you to feel a stretch at the front of your left thigh. Place your left hand on the ground and twist your chest towards the right while you extend your right arm up toward the sky. Hold this for one to two minutes and repeat it on the other side.
Figure Four Stretch
Lie on your back and put your feet flat on the floor. Lift up your right leg and cross your right leg over your left quad. Then, lift up your left leg and grab the back on your left leg and slowly pull it towards you. When you feel a good stretch, hold it for one to two minutes. Switch to the other side and repeat this stretch.
Start out on all fours and slide your knees outwards until they are past the width of your shoulders. Move your feet so your toes are facing outward. Rest the inner edges of your feet on the floor. Then, slowly shift your hips back toward your heels. To get a deeper stretch, switch from resting on your hands to resting on your forearms and hold this for one to two minutes.
Pick out a variety of stretches, and either do them for one minute each or you can choose to follow the 3x20-second rule.
Also, doing these types of stretches is best left for after your workout rather than before. Static stretching before exercising can put you at risk for injury. Instead, choose to do a more dynamic stretching session prior to your workout.