In general, there are two main goals when you are stretching your muscles. The first is to get your body ready to do something athletic and the second is to improve mobility and flexibility.
It is important to stretch your muscles before exercise in order to get them ready for the activity. Doing this helps improve athletic performance and decrease the chance of getting hurt. In general, when you are stretching before working out, you should hold each stretch for 30 seconds or less. For strength workouts especially, holding stretches for longer than 30 seconds can make the muscle temporarily not contract with as much force. In other words, sometimes when a muscle is stretched for more than 30 seconds it will be weaker for a while after stretching. So when you are getting ready to surf, bike, pickleball, etc make sure to keep the stretches for each muscle short but effective.
When you are stretching to improve flexibility and mobility it is important to hold your positions for longer periods of time. When you are chasing improvements in range of motion, the strategy is completely different. This type of stretching benefits from warming up first although you can do it without warming up. It is important to find positions where you can fully relax and maintain a stretch for at least two minutes. When I am doing this type of stretching, I’ll use a yoga mat on top of the carpet, and use pillows or a foam roller as props to allow for me to completely target whatever area I am working on. This type of stretching allows the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joint capsules to gradually yield over time. Much like brushing your teeth, doing this type of thing is essential body maintenance.
One last word on stretching. The same ultrasound guided injection techniques that are used to free up pinched nerves when we are treating pain can be used to help free up a stubborn part of the body. It is very common for people to hit plateaus when it comes to movement restriction. This is especially true after an injury or surgery, but it can also happen without a significant injury as well.