Fitness Strategies

Stretching Should Not Be Missing In Action

Easy Moves that Keep You in the Game

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.

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

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Member Comments

  • Small changes lead to big changes and big changes lead to results.
  • Stretching is something I need to do more of.
  • This is good info to know. It is the complete opposite than what I've always known. In the Army, we stretched before and after our morning PT sessions. Before was warm up and after was cool down.
  • CLAY10237
    Stretching before workout helps get blood moving in the muscles.
  • CLAY10237
    Comcast cable, if that's your cable provider, has lots of great exercise videos at no cost. Go to "On Demand" the "Fitness" and navigate options from there....
  • thanks for the info
  • Very helpful article. Thanks for sharing.
    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!
  • 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
  • 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!
  • 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...
    Stretching is a must after every excercie routine,it also helps too down properly.

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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