Fitness And Injury: Stretching Dos And Donts To Avoid Injury

Stretching can be one of the most beneficial parts of your fitness program! Read on for tips.

Stretching Dos and Don'ts to Avoid Injury

Sure, you may walk or run regularly, hit the gym every other day or attend the occasional fitness class, but is your fitness program truly complete? Not without stretching it isn't! Stretching is a necessary component to any wellness routine regardless of your activity level. Without a good stretch before and after your workout you run the risk of serious injury.

Non-stretchers may also find themselves bulking up instead of trimming down and, as a result, losing valuable range of motion benefits. Lack of flexibility can affect your posture, causing tight hamstrings or hip flexors that will pull your pelvis out of its natural alignment. This can lead to long-term lower back strain and spine issues.

The good news is that stretching is easy and it can be a great way to relax. There are limitless ways to stretch: standing up, lying down and with or without the assistance of a wall, ball or exercise band. As with any exercise, there are also many ways to hurt yourself if you're not careful! Be sure to practice "safe stretch" and use some of these helpful tips to guide you on your way to becoming more flexible as you enhance your workout along the way.

DO: Be sure to stretch 8-10 minutes before AND after your workout, no matter what you're doing.

DON'T: Skimp on stretch time. You should hold each stretch for 15-20 seconds, starting with small range of motion and deepen it as you go. Quick stretches simply aren't worth your valuable workout time.

DO: Take it easy before your workout. You'll find that your muscles will naturally loosen with activity and you will have better flexibility after you've been moving for a while.

DON'T: Stretch past the point of discomfort. Flexibility does not happen overnight. Stretching should not be entirely comfortable, but it should not be painful either. The last thing you want to do is pull a muscle!

DO: Breathe during your stretches. Your muscles will slightly relax as you oxygenate them. Take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale through your mouth as you slowly deepen the stretch with focus and control.

DON'T: Bounce into your stretches. Find your position and hold, then take it further with slow, even breaths.

DO: Seek out the advice of a personal trainer who can help customize your stretch program to meet your specific needs. There's always a new stretch to be learned or muscle to be worked! Plus, this will keep your program fresh and interesting.

Finally, put these Dos and Don'ts into practice on your own! Here are some beginning stretches to help inspire you to give your large muscle groups the added attention they need to stay happy and healthy.

Neck: Slowly nod your head yes and no for five repetitions each. Then, tilt your head side to side.

Pectorals (upper chest): Clasp your hands behind you and reach them down towards the floor to open up your chest. For more stretch, pull up slowly.

Triceps (muscles at the back of the upper arms): Raise right arm above your head and bend at the elbow, allowing your hand to fall behind your head. Place your left hand on your elbow and gently pull to the left. Repeat with the left arm up.

Obliques (side abdominal muscles): Stand with legs apart and place your right hand on your upper thigh. Glue your left arm to your left ear and bend to the right as you reach towards the wall with your left hand. Repeat on the other side.

Abdominals: Lie on your back and bring your arms over your head. Reach in opposition with your hands and your heels as if you're being pulled apart.

Lower back: Lie on your back and hug your knees into your chest.

Hamstrings (muscles at the back of the upper legs): Sit tall with legs together in front of you. Slowly bend forward reaching fingertips to your heels and your nose to your knees. Note: If you have tight hamstrings, start with your knees slightly bent.

Quadriceps (muscles at the front of the upper legs): Stand supporting yourself on a wall with your left hand. Bend your right leg up by bringing your heel to your buttocks. Hold your foot at the ankle with your right hand and keep your knees together. Repeat on the left.

Calves: Turn toward the wall, standing 2-3 inches away from it. Place your right foot on the wall so your toes face the ceiling. Lean slightly in towards the wall to deepen the stretch. Repeat on the left.

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