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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.

Here's Why It's 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.

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. You can 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 about 30 seconds.
  • Three to four repetitions are recommended.
  • Include dynamic and static stretching. Dynamic stretching involves you stretching the muscle while moving. A walking lunge without weights is an example. Static stretching, on the other hand, is when you are stretching a muscle group while staying in one place (like a hamstring stretch).
  • Consider not stretching before an intense activity, such as sprinting or track and field events. Some research suggests that pre-event stretching may decrease performance.

Here are some common stretching mistakes to avoid:

  • Do not bounce during a stretch.
  • Do not stretch a muscle that is not warmed up.
  • If a stretch hurts, ease up. Do not strain or push a muscle too far.
  • Do not hold your breath while stretching.
Getting Started

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.

RESOURCES

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://orthoinfo.aaos.org

Yoga Science Foundation
http://www.yogasciencefoundation.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

American College of Sports Medicine
http://www.acsm.org

American Council on Exercise
http://www.acefitness.org

References:

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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