Stretching might seem like a straightforward activity. The right way to stretch can appear to be something that is obvious and easy to understand. However, in truth, stretching is a little more complicated than you might think. Here are the six essential rules for stretching properly you should know.

Stretch regularly.

No matter your fitness level, your muscles and joints are put under strain and stress every day. If you don’t stretch regularly, your muscles will become steadily tighter. Your risk of eventually suffering an injury will rise. A good rule of thumb is to stretch every major muscle group two or three times a week.

Use proper form.

Every particular stretch has a proper form. Failing to imitate form means your stretching may do more harm than good, potentially resulting in injury. If you aren’t sure how to properly target a particular muscle or perform a given stretch, try looking up a guide online. Consulting with a physical therapist or personal trainer is also a good idea.

Move Slowly.

Forcing your body into a stretch with harsh movements is a sure path to injury. Particularly harmful is the practice of working into a stretch by rocking back and forth, creating a bouncing motion. Bouncing causes muscles to tense up, rather than relax — the opposite of what stretching should do. Gradual, even, slow movements are the proper method.

Pay heed to pain.

Stretching should feel good. While encountering resistance and a little soreness and discomfort can be a sign you are accomplishing something, outright pain is your body’s way of telling you to stop. Be especially wary of sharp, sudden, or intense pain.

Don’t stretch serious injuries.

While stretching is good for relieving soreness and tightness, matters are different when the muscle is actually injured. A torn muscle needs rest to recover. Stretching is likely to slow recovery and can even exacerbate the injury.

Warm-up with dynamic stretching. 

There are two kinds of stretching: dynamic and static stretching. In static stretching, the body is held in place as the muscle is stretched as close to full range of motion as is comfortable. Dynamic stretching, in contrast, involves movement and places less intense demands on muscles. While worth doing at other times, static stretching before exercise can actually impair performance by stretching a muscle too far.

Stretching is important to health and fitness, particularly as the body ages. Regular stretching serves to boost athletic performance and increase flexibility and range of motion. Stretching is also one of the best ways to relieve pain and soreness and helps greatly to protect from injuries during exercise. Since improper stretching can, in contrast, actually increase the risk of injury, getting stretching right is something you need to do.