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.
Stretching offers many benefits, like improving your flexibility, range of motion, and circulation. Stretching may also help to lower your stress level. Advocates for stretching recommend the activity to reduce sports-related injuries, but not all studies have come to this conclusion. Researchers are still exploring how stretching impacts exercise.
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. You can do individual stretching exercises for each muscle group or you can do total body stretching routines.
Major muscle groups to stretch include:
Classes in total body stretching include:
Here are some tips for safe stretching:
Here are some common stretching mistakes to avoid:
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 Science Foundation
American College of Sports Medicine
American Council on Exercise
Frankel JL, Bean JB, Frontera WR. Exercise in the elderly: research and clinical practice. Clinics in Geriatr Med. 2006;22:239-56; vii.
To stretch or not to stretch? American Council on Exercise website. Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/healthy-living-article/60/3248/to-stretch-or-not-to-stretch/. Updated April 12, 2013. Accessed February 3, 2014.
Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, 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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