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Reference Guide to Stretching

An In-Depth Look at Flexibility
  -- By Jen Mueller and Nicole Nichols, Fitness Experts
SparkPeople’s Exercise Reference Guides offer an in-depth look at the principles of fitness.

Stretching comes naturally to all of us. You might notice that if you have been sitting in a particular position for a long time, you stretch unconsciously. It feels good! In addition to that good feeling, a consistent stretching program will produce large gains in flexibility and joint movement.

What is Stretching?
The act of stretching is to extend or lengthen your body or limbs. Stretching helps you develop and maintain a healthy level of flexibility, which refers to the range of movement at any particular joint. Stretching is also referred to as flexibility training. Examples of stretches include: calf stretch, hamstring stretch, triceps stretch, and certain yoga poses and Pilates exercises. The Fitness Resource Center includes stretching routines, videos and stretching demonstrations.

Flexibility training is broadly accepted as a way to increase joint mobility. The goal of stretching is to optimize joint mobility while maintaining joint stability. Although research has shown that different stretching methods will improve joint flexibility, it should be noted that inappropriate stretching can cause injury. Recently, researchers have promoted the concept of a “functional range of motion.” This refers to developing just enough flexibility for a specific activity (or sport) without compromising joint stability.

Everyone should stretch, regardless of age, gender, or flexibility level. Stretching should be a part of your daily routine, whether you exercise or not. There are simple stretches you can do while watching TV, using the computer, or getting ready for bed.

What are the Benefits of Stretching?
Without regular stretching, your muscles will tighten and the range of motion in your joints will decrease as you age. This can put a damper on active lifestyles and even hinder day-to-day activities. Tasks that used to be simple, such as zipping up a dress or reaching for a can off of the top shelf, can become extremely difficult. A regular stretching program can help you to maintain your range of motion and make daily living activities easier.<pagebreak>

Stretching does not demand a huge time commitment, but it can give you huge results! Here are some of the benefits you can expect from a regular stretching program: Stretching is important for people of all ages! One of the greatest benefits of stretching is that you’re able to increase your range of motion, which means your limbs and joints can move further without discomfort or injury. Post-exercise stretching can also aid in workout recovery, decrease muscle soreness, and ensure that your muscles and tendons are in good working order. The more conditioned your muscles and tendons are, the better they can handle the rigors of sport and exercise, and the less likely that they'll become injured.

What Influences Your Level of Flexibility?
There are four main factors that affect your flexibility level and ability to stretch:
  1. Age. Younger people are naturally more flexible than older people. Why? Muscle connective tissues have a natural tendency to shorten and lose elasticity as you age, resulting in muscle tightness and stiffness.
  2. Gender. Females tend to be more flexible than males.
  3. Exercise history. Active people tend to be more flexible than inactive people.
  4. Temperature. When your muscles are warm (whether from exercising or from a warmer environment), they will be more flexible than when they are cold. Why? Increase in muscle temperature decrease muscular resistance, which boosts your range of motion.
How Much Stretching Should You Do?
When considering the guidelines for aerobic exercise, keep the FITT principles in mind (Frequency, (Intensity, Time and Type). Get the Most Out of Your Stretching Routine
Stretching can be highly beneficial if done properly. If done improperly, it can cause serious damage. Here are some helpful tips to ensure you are stretching safely and preventing injury: SparkPeople Stretching Routines
The following videos and routines will help you increase your overall flexibility.
Basic Stretching Routine
Quick and Easy Stretching Routine
Seated Stretching Routine
Daily Stretching Routine
Advanced Stretching Routine
VIDEO: Lower Body Stretching Routine (standing)
VIDEO: Lower Body Stretching Routine (lying on mat)
VIDEO: Calf and Ankle Stretching Routine (for shin splints)
VIDEO: Upper Body Stretching Routine