I know there is much controversy about whether or not to stretch before you exercise. What isn’t controversial is that stretching is an important part of staying fit. It keeps our bodies flexible allowing us to move our muscles and joints through their full range of motion.
For years, stretching has been an essential part of a fitness program as a way to decrease the risk of injury, prevent soreness and improve performance. Back when I was in school, all my PE teachers always had the class stretch before we played tennis, went on a run or participated in any kind of physical workout. For as long as I can remember, stretching has always been part of my fitness routine.
The University of Rochester Medical Center suggests a few tips to get the most from your stretching:
- Do five to 10 minutes of walking or light jogging to warm up before you start exercising and stretching. Do not try to stretch muscles when they are “cold.”
- Stretch at least two to three times a week. If you work out two to three times a week, just make it part of your workout routine.
- Stretch all major muscle groups, especially those your activity involves. For running or other leg-centered exercise, that means the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. Stretch the shoulders, chest, and back before activities working the upper body.
- Stretch each muscle group individually using slow, gentle movements. Breathe while you stretch, exhaling as you move into the stretch. Hold the position no more than 20 to 30 seconds. Three to five repetitions is recommended.
- Don’t try to balance and stretch at the same time. Holding onto a chair or wall for standing stretches provides more stability.
- Don’t bounce while you stretch or make sudden movements. Back off if you experience pain. Stretching should not take a joint past its normal range of motion. Stretching the wrong way can harm muscles by creating small tears that may become bigger when you exercise.
To learn more about stretching and warming up, check out their website.