It is often the simplest things that we tend to over complicate. So let us take a second, or 20 to break down the most effective way to stretch.
The tight muscle
Its not broken. A tight muscle is just in need of attention. It needs oxygen and nutrients delivered to unlock the internal mechanics as well as the time and repetition.
Oxygen in, CO2 out. Nutrients in, lactic acid out. Breathing into the abdomen, expanding like a balloon, exhale and the abdomen deflates.
The diaphragm is the only muscle needed in relaxed breathing. Breathing into the top of the chest over works muscles that have other primary jobs, like those in the neck that can cause headaches when fatigued.
Placing one hand on the abdomen and one on the top of the chest, only the abdomen should move while the top of the chest should remain relaxed.
Breath should be even. If the your natural cadence is four seconds on inhale, then it should be paired with an equal four seconds on exhale.
Take the muscle to the edge. When we get that zesty stretch sensation it's gone too far. The muscle is actually starting to contract to prevent what could be a strain. Take the muscle back to where tension exists to feather that border between too zesty and relaxed.
The tension is there to open the muscle to the breaths nutrients. Its not a piece of sheet metal that can be smashed back into shape. The muscle is only so long and a major release can be measured in millimetres.
Take your time
One breath no mater how big or long is not going to deliver the nutrients to unlock the muscle. A minimum 20 relaxed breaths give time to clear out the shortened muscle.
Only stretch when you have the time to relax and breath.
As the cascade of exchange happens in the muscle the tension barrier will open up, what once was zesty is now just taught. Slowly move into the stretch with the gentle release. The body may need more than 20 seconds to complete the release.
Repetition strengthens the neural pathway to the muscle. The stronger the connection the easier to control contracting and relaxing. For example, most people can isolate and flex the biceps, and inherently relax after wards. The more we work with a muscle the stronger the connect.
It takes about two weeks to develop a bad habit, and so the same to be said for a good one. Integrating a stretch into a daily routine takes time to see results. No one picks up a basketball and knows how to throw it accurately the first time. At about two weeks it can be expected to feel the muscle learn to relax. Don't be discouraged if you are doing the stretch correctly and on day three its not back to neutral. It took weeks if not years to teach the muscle the bad habit.
As long as there is the original cause of the shortening there is need for stretch to balance the nervous input. Runners need to stretch after a run to let the legs know they don't need to contract anymore, and us computer bound individuals need to stretch after being in compromised postures sucked into the computer screen.
Now that we recognize how circulation is the biggest component to returning a muscle to balance lets provide the environment . Being warmed up means the circulation to the muscle is increased to speed up the exchange of nutrients for waste.
Warming up can come from activity where the heart is pumping and the body is engorged with oxygen from heavy breathing... or in a hot environment. An easy cheat to stretching is doing it post shower. That way we add it to an existing daily task and its warmed up.
Hold for a minimum 20 abdominal breaths using gentle pressure into the stretch. Stretch at least once a day after shower , for no less than two weeks before expecting to see the difference. After two weeks continue as needed.