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
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

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