Stretching Basics
and Tips

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Warm Up First  |  Before or After a Workout?
Static Stretching Slow and Steady
How much Tension  |  How to Breath  |  Relaxation and Stretching
How often should you Stretch  |  Stretching Program

Basic Tips

  1. Warm-up to prepare your body for exercise
  2. Increase your heart rate with some cardiovascular exercise
  3. Cool-down to gently return your heart rate to normal
  4. Stretch those muscles to help prevent injury and keep you flexible.

Everyone knows that stretching is an important component in injury prevention, but it is increasingly becoming an important step in enhancing sports performance.

Warm Up First
A warm muscle is much more easily stretched than a cold muscle. Never stretch a cold muscle, always warm-up first to get blood circulating throughout the body and into the muscles. A warm-up should be a slow, rhythmic exercise of larger muscle groups done before an activity. Riding a bicycle or walking works well. This provides the body with a period of adjustment between rest and the activity. The warm-up should last about 5-10 minutes and should be similar to the activity that you are about to do, but at a much lower intensity. Once you have warmed up at a low intensity for about 5-10 minutes and have gotten your muscles warm, you can now stretch.

Before or After a Workout?
Stretching before an activity (after the warm-up) improves dynamic flexibility and reduces the chance of injury. Stretching after exercise ensures muscle relaxation, facilitating normal resting length, circulation to joint and tissue structures, and removal of unwanted waste products, thus reducing muscle soreness and stiffness. Body temperature is highest right after the cardiovascular exercise program and/or after strength training. In order to achieve maximum results in range of motion and to receive other benefits, it is highly recommended that you do static stretching at this point in your workout, just after your cardiovascular program and during or after your strength-training program.

Stretch Before and After Cardiovascular Exercise
If it is your day off from strength training and you are just doing your cardiovascular exercise routine, first warm-up for 5-10 minutes at a low intensity (50-60 percent of your maximum heart rate ) and stretch the muscles used. Proceed doing a cardiovascular exercise for at least 20 minutes at a intensity of 50-85 percent of your maximum heart rate (refer to the Global Health and Fitness Cardiovascular Exercise Program). Then cool down for 5-10 minutes at a low intensity (50-60 percent of your maximum heart rate). Now, because your muscles are very warm you should stretch each of the major muscle groups involved in the exercise, using the static stretching techniques we explained previously. For example, if you walked on the treadmill, you should stretch your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and lower back. Proper technique for each stretch is absolutely critical for achieving maximum effectiveness in any one specific muscle group. In addition to stretching those muscles used in the exercise, now is also a good time to go through a full body stretching routine--since blood has circulated throughout your body and warmed-up your muscles.

Static Stretching  Slow and steady
Static stretching involves a slow, gradual and controlled elongation of the muscle though the full range of motion and held for 15-30 seconds in the furthest comfortable position (without pain).
A slow, static stretch that allows the muscle to relax gradually is the safest course of action. Our muscles are equipped with a safety mechanism called the stretch reflex. If we try to lengthen the muscle too quickly or forcefully, it responds with a reflexive contraction -- it shortens the muscle in a protective response to the stress, so the muscle is tightened, rather than relaxed. To get the most out of your stretch, begin the exercise gently and hold it in place.

How much Tension?
The essence of stretching is to lengthen the muscle only to the point of gentle tension. This is an excellent time to listen to your body; stretching should never hurt. When starting a stretch, take a nice deep breath in and slowly release the breath as you gradually relax into the stretching position.
To return muscles to their natural length after your workout, hold the stretch for approximately 15-30 seconds. This will relax the muscle from the repeated contractions of exercise, thus helping prevent injury. To increase your flexibility, after the initial 30-seconds, try relaxing further into the stretch and hold this position for an additional 15-30 seconds. Remember to stretch only to the point of comfortable tension and stop immediately if you feel any pain in joints or muscles.

How to Breathe
Deep, rhythmic breaths help relax our muscles and our minds. Close your eyes during stretching and focus on your breathing. At the point where the tension in the muscle begins to release, take a deep breath, filling your lungs and expanding your diaphragm. As you slowly exhale, relax further into the stretch and feel the tension in the muscle melt away.

Relaxation and Stretching
Mayo sports medicine doctors are researching whether total relaxation of a muscle may be an important part of achieving flexibility, perhaps apart from or in combination with stretching. Anecdotally, they've observed a high degree of flexibility in "tight" people while they are under general anesthesia even though their muscles are structurally the same as when they are awake. Although it's too early to draw conclusions, the theory behind this new research is that stimulation from the central nervous system influences the flexibility of muscles, and that relaxing a muscle may be a viable method of enhancing flexibility.

How often should you Stretch?
Your body will respond very positively to gentle stretching. Minimally, you should stretch twice a week to keep your muscles limber and your mind relaxed. Definitely make time for stretching in each of your normal workouts after a warm-up period whether it be at the beginning or conclusion of the workout.

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Revised: March 02, 2015