Fitness Strategies

Stretching Should Not Be Missing In Action

Easy Moves that Keep You in the Game

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When you think about working out—or even see it on TV, in movies, or at your own gym—does stretching come to mind? Probably not.

Stretching is easily ignored, even in commercials for gyms. Yet it's an important part of any fitness program. Like many things in life, you want to avoid extremes. Stretching is no different. What the research shows is that the "extremes" of too little flexibility and too much flexibility are likely to cause injury and problems. And while research has never proven that stretching prevents injury (that is a myth), it still has its benefits, like enhancing post-workout recovery and decreasing soreness. Most people should aim for an average to "normal" level of flexibility, but if you don’t stretch regularly, your range of motion will decline.

So how do you begin? First, never stretch before a workout. SparkPeople encourages people to stretch after their workouts, when your muscles are warmest and least prone to injury from improper stretching. Exercise loosens the muscles and joints and prepares them to be stretched. After your proper warm up, workout and cool down comes stretching.

Try to hit every muscle group when stretching. The key to proper stretching is knowing how far to go—you should feel slight discomfort, but not pain. If it hurts, you've gone too far. Here are a few more tips:
  1. Inhale deeply.
  2. As you exhale, slowly and smoothly stretch to a point of moderate tension, before the warm "burn" turns painful. Never bounce or jerk.
  3. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds.
  4. Breathe deeply and naturally during the stretch hold. Don't hold your breath. Stay relaxed.
  5. Slowly return to your start position, and relax for a few seconds.
  6. Repeat the stretch two more times, if you choose.
  7. If possible, try to stretch a little farther each time you stretch—but don't push it.
Stretching after a workout also relaxes your muscles, increases circulation to joints and tissues, and helps remove unwanted waste products, thereby reducing muscle soreness and stiffness. Now you have all the reasons you need to make sure stretching comes after every workout.
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • thanks for the info - 2/4/2014 5:14:52 PM
  • Very helpful article. Thanks for sharing. - 10/5/2013 6:15:28 AM
  • Thanks! - 4/8/2013 11:42:16 AM
  • DRUM-MAJOR
    I see this article has been around for a while... I found it interesting and informative. It is contrary to what I have been taught - to do some stretching prior to a workout. I learned that pre-workout stretching is recommended since prior to a workout, they have been "relaxed." I will have to research this further. I would appreciate if anyone could shed some more references and information. Thanks! - 2/21/2013 7:55:48 AM
  • so glad this article reminds to stretch after the work out and not before, I see so many people stretching before hand and it can lead to injury...the best is to warm up for a few minutes on the treadmill - 3/13/2012 12:14:16 PM
  • This article comes at a perfect time. I tried doing yoga today at the gym, and was so inflexible that I had to leave the class. I realize I never stretch before or after classes. Starting tomorrow I will do so! - 3/2/2012 12:24:24 AM
  • Stretching is my favorite part of a workout! I love savoring in the feeling of accomplishment for how hard I just worked, while giving my muscles and joints a reward for their effort. And it just feels so good! I've always been a big fan of stretching, since I started playing peewee softball at age 9, and as a result, I have a decent range of motion.
    It's a shame my gym doesn't feel the same way about stretching - there's hardly any floor space to stretch out after a workout, and I'm often battling with people doing strength training... - 3/1/2012 11:41:10 AM
  • COROZALOVE
    Stretching is a must after every excercie routine,it also helps too down properly. - 5/16/2011 11:38:29 AM
  • Very helpful information. Will add to my workout routine. - 4/1/2011 2:57:52 PM
  • I like that I am releasing unwanted toxins and waste products when stretching as well as relaxing the muscle group and gaining improved flexibiltiy. - 3/5/2011 9:28:03 PM
  • An all stretching video would be great. I have a Karen Voight Pure & Simple Stretch tape (yeah, tape!) that I love & need to do more often. Thanks for the article! I've been trying to make regular stretching more of a routine. Thanks for the motivation! - 11/5/2010 2:58:02 PM
  • I'm so glad I read this! I've been stretching out in the pool after I slowly jog my first half-lap (25 meters) I'll stop now.

    But I do LU-U-UV my post-jogging stretch! Especially when it's relatively quiet in the pool.

    Judy - 8/15/2010 3:41:02 PM
  • MEMAKEYTOO
    What a timely article for me. Somehow stretching had dropped by the wayside. I was spending all of my exercise time with cardio and strength and I could not understand why my body was hurting where it should not hurt. Stretching is changing all that.

    KEEP STRETCHING SPARK FRIENDS. - 8/15/2010 2:25:56 PM
  • It's really difficult (and painful) to get lost flexibility back when you are older and have joint wear. So stretch regularly throughout your life to keep hold of it. - 8/15/2010 10:03:37 AM
  • Thanks for this article. Hey, I was wondering is it possible for you, Coach Nicole to make a SparkPeople fitness dvd that has nothing but stretching workouts? I seem to be doing the same stretches and have made sure to save this article to favorites but I don't always have the computer on. It would be nice to have a dvd to put in after a cardio workout or strength workout to do some more stretching.
    Just some food for thought. - 5/20/2010 9:57:38 AM
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