Stretching is an essential part of a complete exercise program. However, many people skip it, thinking they don't have enough time or it's not very important. Read on to find out why it is so important, and how to go about it.
Here's Why It's Important:
Stretching increases freedom of movement and improves posture. In addition, it releases muscle tension and soreness, enhances relaxation, and reduces your risk of injury during exercise. However, of all exercise forms, stretching remains the least scientifically studied.
Here's How to Stretch:
Two general types of stretching include dynamic stretching, where the joint is moved through full range, and static stretching, where the joint is held at end range of movement. To stretch your muscles you can either do individual stretching exercises for each muscle group or you can do total body stretching routines.
Major muscle groups to stretch include:
- Back muscles
- Neck muscles
- Leg muscles: hamstrings, quadriceps, calf muscles
- Chest muscles
- Buttocks and hip muscles
- Shoulder and arm muscles
- Stomach muscles
Classes in total body stretching include:
Here are some tips for safe stretching:
- Spend at least 5-10 minutes warming up your muscles before stretching. For example, walking gently while swinging your arms in wide circles.
- Start each stretch slowly, exhaling as you gently stretch the muscle.
- Hold each stretch for 10-30 seconds.
- Four to five repetitions are recommended.
- Include dynamic and static stretching.
Here are some common stretching mistakes to avoid:
- Don't bounce during a stretch.
- Don't stretch a muscle that is not warmed up.
- If a stretch hurts, ease up. Don't strain or push a muscle too far.
- Don't hold your breath while stretching.
For total body stretching, you can start by going to yoga or tai chi classes. To learn how to stretch specific muscle groups, you can buy a book on stretching or enlist the help of a certified athletic trainer. You can find a trainer at a local gym or through a referral from your doctor or a friend.
Before starting an exercise program, check with your doctor about any possible medical problems you may have that would limit your exercise program.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Yoga Research and Education Center
Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute
Healthy Living Unit
Frankel JL, Bean JB, Frontera WR. Exercise in the elderly: research and clinical practice. Clinics in Geriatr Med. 2006;22:239-56; vii.
Health and fitness tips. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/healthandfitnesstips/default.aspx. Accessed September 4, 2008.
Last reviewed May 2008 by John C. Keel, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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